The Soul

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Souls Ascend and Descend

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Philosophy, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Imaginal, The Soul

“Although both [soul and spirit] are transpersonal, spirit takes you in one direction from the conscious mind or personality, and soul takes you in the other. The movement toward spirit is a journey of ascent, a journey of transcendence, while the movement toward your soul is a journey of descent, or what Thomas Berry calls “inscendence,” a journey that deepens.”

“Transcendence is commonly associated with the rising sun (and thus the compass direction of east), an ascension to the boundless emptiness of space, a journey into the upperworld, a union with the light — conversing with angels or the ascended masters. The soul path is often associated with the setting sun (and thus the direction of west), the descent to our earthy roots, into the wildness of the soil and the soul, a journey into the underworld, a voyage into darkness or shadow as in the apparent destination of the sun as it sinks below the western horizon.” —Bill Plotkin

“Marion [Woodman] defines spirit as ethereal, transcendent, heavenly, immaterial, perfect, ‘out there’, ‘above’ ordinary life, and … masculine. Marion and [Bill] Plotkin believe that we grow in two different directions: ascend towards spirit and descend towards soul. The spirit path takes us on a journey to the upper world–a boundless, timeless union with the transcendent or God–whereas the soul path takes us on a journey to the lower world–a meandering make-out session with the immanent and our individual selves.” –Sera Beak Red, Hot, and Holy p.94

I’ve spent a good deal of time on this site articulating the difference between spirit and soul work. I think experientially understanding both the points of contact as well as the points of difference between our souls and spirits is an absolutely essential part of becoming human. On this I’m in total agreement with Marion Woodman and Bill Plotkin.

Describing the difference between spirit and soul as that of ascent (spirit) and descent (soul) is however wrong in my view. In this piece I’ll show why I believe that distinction is misguided and what unhelpful consequences occur as a result of approaching spiritual and soul practice in this way. On the surface, this might seem like an overly technical semantics debate, I think it does have important implications. Mistakes about the precise nature of the soul and the spirit and how to access and incarnate them inevitably create imbalances in practice, misinterpretation of experience, and cut off others form of spiritual and soul-based realization.

First I’ll explore the mistake around ascent and descent, showing how both the soul and the spirit can be said to ascend or descend (or both). Second, I’ll critique the false binary between spiritual as “above”, “out there”, and masculine versus the soul which is then “below”, “in here”, and feminine. Lastly, I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how we can more wisely understand the difference between soul and spirit.

But before going there I do want to emphasize how much I appreciate the work these individuals (Bill Plotkin in particular) have done to differentiate spiritual practice from soul work. This distinction has been a major gift in my own life and lies at the heart of the work I do now. For that I am deeply grateful. I do however think we need to nuance the understanding of the precise nature of that differentiation between spirit and soul.

Spirit and Soul Both Ascend and Descend

The idea that spirit is about ascent and soul is about descent is the core mistake in my view. The masculine/feminine distinction is a corollary of this central belief.

Here’s a portion of that quotation again:

“The spirit path takes us on a journey to the upper world–a boundless, timeless union with the transcendent or God–whereas the soul path takes us on a journey to the lower world–a meandering make-out session with the immanent and our individual selves.”

This framework sets up a false dichotomy, one not supported in the great spiritual traditions themselves.

For example, in shamanism there is the classic description of the three worlds: upper, lower, and middle.

The upper world is what people typically call heaven but would be better termed paradise. The Elysian Fields of Greek mythology, the happy hunting grounds, the realms of angels, deceased ancestors and loved ones, the abode of Plato’s Archetypes, the Brahmaloka, and the realm of gods in Buddhism.

The lower world is the psychic reality of earth. It’s a realm where we burn contracts, retrieve pieces of our soul, and commune with the elements of fire, earth, air, and water.

The middle world is our world. To psychically journey in the middle world is actually the most complex and potentially dangerous of the three worlds (as it turns out).

Together these three worlds form a coherent unified order. The soul is what transits all three realms.

In shamanic practice one learns first to descend to the lower world. I imagine beginning with descent is the source of the confusion that soul is about descent only. But then one learns to journey to the upper worlds. Finally one learns to journey in the middle world.

All three of those worlds are accessed through the soul. It is true that the soul descends into the underworld, like Orpheus. It’s also true however that the soul ascends to paradise–think Dante meeting Beatrice in Paradise in The Divine Comedy or Prophet Elijah being taken up to paradise. Journeying in the middle world is neither descending nor ascending; middle world journeys are in a sense horizontal, neither up nor down but rather further within.

So the soul can descend, ascend, or move laterally.

Much of what people describe as belonging to the path of ascent belongs to the soul not the spirit. It’s the soul that unites to God. Our spirit nature does not unite to God (it is of the same essence as God, hence it does not need to unite to God). Countless however are the stories of souls flying to heaven and uniting with God.

Soul is energy, communion, proper boundaries, just and harmonious relationship, voice, vitality, and dreaming.

Spiritual realization on the other hand is not so much about flying up to heaven as it is about realizing heaven as the essence of everything as it is on earth. The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

Now it’s true that spiritual realization is often called Waking Up (there’s ascent of spirit). With a spiritual teacher like Saniel Bonder however it is called Waking Down (descent of spirit). In this video Adyashanti and Loch Kelly talk about how their spiritual realization started more in their heads and then descended to their hearts.

So in the realm of spirit, we also see a similar pattern of possible ascent as well as descent.

In the first chapter of The Gospel of John it states, 

“In the beginning was Wisdom and Wisdom was with God and Wisdom was God…and Wisdom became flesh and dwelt among us.”

That’s a descending model of spirit. Jesus, as the incarnation of God’s Wisdom, “comes down” from above. In fact all incarnational models of spirituality are descending by their very nature.

Or consider the words of the great Padmashambhava, father of Tibetan Buddhism on spiritual realization: 

Descending with The View, I climb the mountain of cause and effect.”

There’s spirt in both ascending and descending form in one integrated movement.

As the Heart Sutra says, “the formless is form.” The other world is this world. The transcendental reality is expressed precisely in, as, and through concrete materiality. (To use the fancy terms transcendence is experienced in and as immanence).

The Zen tradition is particularly alive to this aspect of spiritual realization–that it is not really about ascending or descending, it simply is attuned to What IS.

Frog jumps in pond, plop.
Rain on roof, marvellous beyond wonder.
Daisies float in the breeze, stupendous.

Spiritual realization is the realization that everything has but One Nature, One Condition, One Essence. Or in more Buddhist language, it is the realization that there is no separate existence, everything is empty (shunyata) of such qualities in an inseparable marvellous, seamless display.

No one needs go up or down or sideways to realize this truth. They simply need to see.

It is true that spiritual realization–as Adyashanti and Loch Kelly describe–tends to start in the head or mind. This probably is why spirit is often seen as (only) ascending. Just as with the soul it starts with descent to the lower world but that is not the final movement of soul.

It’s certainly true that spiritual realization or enlightenment can stay stuck in the head/mind. It can however continue to deepen and it does so by descending further down in the bodymind, to the throat, the heart, the belly, etc.

So to reiterate, souls can ascend, descend, as well as ‘move sideways’. So can spirits. Consequently, the metaphor of directionality doesn’t help us particularly discern the differences between soul and spirit.

Masculine Spirit versus Feminine Soul

If the metaphor of directionality doesn’t help us in distinguishing soul and spirit, I don’t think metaphors drawn from the realms of gender and sexuality are any better (a subject I’ve written on elsewhere).

It is correct to say that in many traditions the soul is described as feminine. But then again spirit can and is often described as feminine–e.g. Lady Wisdom. The word spirit in Latin is masculine in its gender casing (spiritus) but in Hebrew is feminine (ruach) and in Greek is neuter (pneuma).

This confusion results from the earlier mistake of seeing spirit as ascending and out there, rather than the essence of all that is and soul as descent, rather than the intrinsic particularity, relationality and subtlety of all existence.

Once spirit is seen as “out there” and “above” then it’s very easy to conflate that out there, aboveness with being masculine and “down here”, “within” being feminine. And typically in this kind of presentation there’s a not very subtle biasing towards the feminine over the masculine. Worse still, while feminine is not supposed to mean women and masculine is not supposed to be men, in practice those words tend to evoke precisely those understandings. Hence this presentation not-so-subtly is prejudiced towards women being seen as more important carriers of truth. As a consequence, the masculine very often becomes the holder of our shadows, the things we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves.

In other words, I think we’re taking our metaphors way too seriously in this realm. Yes many traditions speak of earth as mother and sky as father but earlier Indo-European traditions actually reversed it with the heavens being feminine and earth being masculine. And ultimately of course neither is actually masculine nor feminine.

Offering this critique is not an attempt to reassert masculine spirituality (or worse some kind of patriarchal view of spirituality). For one I don’t really buy all that much into a concept of the masculine. Two, I think teasing out the differences between soul and spirit are hard enough on their own terms. It’s only made that much more difficult by adding in the the very confusing and complex interweaving that is the relationship between our concrete historical gender patterns, our biology, and our sexual orientations and how those relate to spiritual experiences, insights, and the spiritual realm itself. (For those interested in exploring that topic in greater detail, see this piece I wrote on the subject.)


What seems on the surface like a simple statement about soul being about descent (and feminine) and spirit being about ascent (and masculine) turns out to be a whole messed up jumble. Once again, I do think the distinction between soul and spirit is a very powerful one, one that is significantly missed in much spiritual teaching and literature. Again, I want to stress I’m in deep agreement with Marion Woodman and Bill Plotkin on that point.

I think a better way of proceeding comes from those authors themselves:

The sentence immediately before the quotation from Sera Beak with which I began this piece reads:

“Here’s another perspective I found helpful during this time, offered by Bill Plotkin, author of the masterpiece Soulcraft, which makes the distinction between spirit and soul: soul is our unique core, while spirit is that which we all have in common.” (ibid, p.94).

I think this view is much better.

I mentioned that we can define spiritual awakening as the realization that there is Only One Condition of all conditions, One Nature to all natures. Spiritual realization is to experientially grasp that all reality has but One Substrate. Or again in Buddhist language that there is a Zero Quality to all reality. There is no separation. The whole is Seamless.

Because of that we may say there is only One Spirit. Spiritual realization is the dying or dropping away of our normal self-centered frame of reference. What is left in the wake of the dropping away is the sense of The All, The One, What IS. This is the same for everyone.

In Plotkin’s words, spirit “is that which we all have in common” because there is only One (or Zero), not Two.

Soul then is unique expression. Each soul is a distinct expression. Like rays coming off of the Sun. There is but One Sun (Spirit) but it is expressed as many rays (Unique Souls).

It is not that all the rays need to be added up to make up the Sun. It is that the fullness of the Sun is intrinsic to each ray and each ray is simply that–it’s own utterly singular expression of The Whole. The ray is not separate from the Sun but nevertheless each ray is unique. That is the paradoxical wisdom of Soul.

What all of this points to is that soul work is very different from spiritual work. Each form of practice applies to a different aspect of our human incarnation and therefore both are intrinsically valuable and vitally necessary. When we stick to the precise understanding of spirit as recognition of Oneness (or Zeroness) and soul as expression of Distinctness then we have the capacity to stick to the actual experience and work itself. In my view, when we start adding in complicating ideas over the top like spirit is out there and masculine and ascending or soul is in here and feminine and descending then we inevitably create confusion.

04 Sep 2017 no comments / READ MORE

The (Fourth) Voice of Sovereignty

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Mystics, Philosophy, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Soul

Spiritual author Cynthia Bourgeault has written on a discernment process she has developed employing a conversation between what she calls the four voices, i.e. the four human identities of 1. ego/personality, 2. soul, 3. spirit, and 4. Heart. I follow the same basic four part scheme in my teaching, except that what Cynthia calls the Heart, I term The Sovereign (or Sovereignty). But essentially the perspective is the same.

I believe this fourfold teaching of the human being is a crucially important one for our time and age. I recommend reading Cynthia’s post in full (as well as this followup piece). There are a number of significant implications that develop from this basic fourfold scheme. Cynthia describes a very beautiful practice of letting each voice speak in turn in relationship to making a decision (aka discernment).

I want to extend this fourfold idea into some other domains.

The first and perhaps most important takeaway from this schema is that each of the four identities (or voices) has its own worldview. Each identity opens up a specific worldspace–it has a lens, a filter. Different phenomena arise depending on which identity is being accessed. In other words, different values, thoughts, feelings, and insights correspond with each of the four voices. Each identity brings its own world of experience. Each identity creates its own boundary of possible experience and understanding. Each identity is therefore a different world.

One of the extensions of this fourfold scheme that I’ve been working on is to think through essential teachings that derive from each of the four aspects of our being and learn a way to bring them together in a fundamental integrative human teaching. I’m going to explore this idea in greater detail below, but first we need to get a bit clearer on the four terms and to what identity each refers.

The ego or frontal personality is essentially a series of survival strategies. It’s not so much that the personality has various strategies. Rather the ego-personality is (for most people) those strategies. The ego/frontal personality is the aspect of us that we identify with it say at a party or business function. You meet someone for the first time you immediately introduce yourself by name. You both end up talking about where you grew up, what schools you went to, your job. Whether you’re married, divorce, single, have kids or not. The ego (or more simply the self) is the aspect of us that is born and will die. It also knows it will die. This aspect of us is highly conditioned. It has only a few go to moves and will always deploy them. Though even here we can grow into a deeper self maturity.

The soul (lowercase s) is the source of classic shamanic and animistic processes. The soul holds karmic and ancestral energies. The soul (lowercase s) is our connection to the psychic reality of Earth and the land. The soul is what carries forward lifetime to lifetime. The soul is the one who undertakes journeys to the otherworlds. The soul is what travels in our dreams and visions. The soul is the source of subtle energy, connections to angels, guides, deceased loved ones, saints, The Creator. It’s the realm of shadow work, exorcisms, and energy healings. It’s the domain of tarot readings, astrological connections, and the Akashic Records. Access your soul and these realities automatically start emerging. That is these realities exist in the worldspace the soul opens. They are not accessible, for example, by the ego (nor interestingly by spirit).

Spirit is our connection to the universal. Spirit is transpersonal. It is what is the same for all of us. Spiritual language is language of Unity, Oneness, Non-Separation. Spirit is the The One Without a Second. Spirit is Being Per Se. Spiritual teaching, spiritual enlightenment, and spiritual realization then all point us to the recognition of our spiritual nature and identity.

The Sovereign (or Sovereignty) is the aspect of us that integrates our self, our soul, and our spirit into one utterly singular unique expression. The Sovereign is the Flavor of our Incarnation. The Sovereign is a Master Weaver taking all of the aspects of our being, bringing them into our own manifestly distinct human being. The Sovereign weaves us each into an irreducible tapestry of being. The Sovereign is for each of us, the True Guide and Teacher of our being. The Sovereign is Infinity+1.

So with those four identities a bit more clarified, we can now turn to a way of simplifying and understanding the nature of various kinds of human practices. The basic premise here is that different practices are aimed at different voices/identities. For example, personal growth processes are aimed at the personality-ego. There are soul-based practices, e.g. shamanism. There are also teachings on the nature of spiritual awakening.

Each set of teachings is valid from within the bounds of the specific identity with which it works. Another way of saying that is that each set of teachings is true and yet partial. What true but partial means is that those teachings are not valid outside their area of legitimacy. For example it makes no sense to study personal growth techniques in order to about how to relate properly and lovingly to the souls of your ancestors. One is for the ego (personal development), the other is the work of the soul (the ancestors). Similarly it doesn’t help to study spiritual enlightenment in order to solve a psychological issue (that’s called spiritual bypassing).

In this way the four-identity or four-voice framework brings a great deal of clarity.

Working with a Tarot reading (soul) is not going to help optimize your email flow (personal growth/personality). An exquisite Tarot reading can however nurture your soul. Learning to meditate (spiritual teaching) doesn’t help your soul–in fact if you’re not careful it can actually teach you to bypass it. Optimizing your email flow also doesn’t teach you about the nature of your fundamental Consciousness. For that one you need spiritual teaching.

Knowing which identity a practice is oriented towards allows the practice to do what it does best and not be asked to do things it’s not designed to do. As Ken Wilber says practices and teachings are “freed up by being limited”.

An upshot of this meta-frame is that allows spiritual teaching to be relieved of the burden of having to solve all problems for all people all the time. It also restores the inherent value and proper place of soul work–which is often marginalized and/or outright denied in our day with its dominance of personal growth and spiritual teaching. This fourfold meta-perspective also creates a role for personal growth work in relationship to soul work and spiritual teaching that does not allow the personal growth side of things to co-opt soul and spiritual traditions as in much of the contemporary spiritual wellness lifestyle crossover scene (aka LOHAS).

That’s a first key piece coming out of this fourfold framework: seeing how to incorporate aspects from each of the three traditions in a harmonious, mutually supportive manner.

The second aspect is opening an entire new domain of practice and exploration: namely that of The Sovereign. I’m going to explore that rich topic in a later article.

But for now the key point is that when deploying this fourfold meta-frame, spiritual teaching ceases to be the end all be all. Personal growth ceases to be the highest value. Enacting your soul purpose (while crucially important) no longer takes priority of other aspects of being: like spiritual awakening or personal health.

The central learning is how to incorporate at least some of each of the three major traditions to create a basic integrative framework for human practice. By the principle of true but partial, each of these traditions is relativized (in the best sense). They are freed up by being limited.

In the ego-personality realm we have the traditions of psychotherapy, somatic bodywork, and personal growth.

In the soul realm we have energy healing traditions as well as shamanic practice, with all its multitudes of variations and diverse expression.

In the spiritual realm we have teachings of nondual awakening and realization.

We put all these traditions on a horizontal line. Therapy is not greater than nor lesser than spiritual enlightenment. Soul work is similarly neither greater than nor lesser than either psychotherapy nor spiritual awakening.

All need to work in harmony. Each has a specific piece of the puzzle that is unique to it: therapy, soul work, spiritual practice. No one of them can fill in the essential elements brought by the others. Spiritual teaching doesn’t help heal your ego. Working on healing your ego (in therapy) doesn’t teach how to realize your spiritual identity (as for example meditation teaches). Neither of those teaches you about the nature of you as a soul.

Ken Wilber writes that the problem is never partiality. The problem is always wholeness without partiality. When a spiritual teaching claims to be the final ultimate and only valuable teaching it’s preaching a wholeness without partiality, aka an ideology, a fundamentalism.

When however we recognize the partially true value of each of these streams we begin to ask how we can have them work together for the mutual benefit of all. We begin to ask the right set of questions: how do I begin to incorporate elements of ego-personality practice, soul work, and spiritual teaching into a cohesive, integrated process?

That question leads to a very fruitful line of inquiry to be lived. That question is the one I believe we need to be asking of ourselves and each other right now. How do we wisely include them all in their respective truths? That I believe is the one of the core benefits that an understanding of Sovereignty brings (the one that creates a big enough home for each.)

19 Apr 2017 no comments / READ MORE

Why Self-Worth Leads to Worthlessness

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Healing Arts, Shamanism, The Imaginal, The Soul

Energy healer and author Cyndi Dale argues that one of the core negative beliefs a human being can have is “I am unworthy”. She describes a number of such core negative beliefs: e.g. I am powerless, I am unlovable, I don’t belong, and I am undeserving. And for her, all those are variations on an arch-belief: “I am separate.”

I think she’s onto something. Maybe there are others that could be added but that’s a solid list. In my work with individuals, I’ve come to think that all of us have at least one of those core negative beliefs (if not more than one). Of that list, the strongest one for me, the one that has had the most negative impact in my life is: “I don’t belong.”

Knowing what the core belief (or beliefs) are is a very important first step but by itself is not sufficient to change the underlying dynamic for a person. I’ve known that I feel and believe myself to be an outsider pretty much my whole life. I was adopted so I felt like an outsider in my own family. I felt even more of an outsider in the wider world of school, other families, childhood peers, and later in my life with other people.

So knowing that is on one level affirming. Yes I struggle with that one. Knowing all of them more broadly has given me greater empathy–I have a particularly sensitivity obviously for folks, like, me, with the “I don’t belong” one, but learning this model has given me a much greater appreciation of the struggles and deep pains of other people.

The resolution to these core negative beliefs requires connecting to the energy that ought to be there instead. As an example, for I am unlovable that would of course be the experience/state of being of “I am lovable. I am loved. I am loving.” For I am powerless it would be, “I am, as I am, a being with the capability for power and choice.”

The core belief I see most commonly in my practice is “I am unworthy.” And I’ve noticed something interesting in working with this negative belief. Namely that the energy that resolves this belief is not–what would seem at first blush to be the obvious solution–“I am worthy.”

What I’ve discovered is that I am worthy as an energy, as a feeling-belief statement, as a state of being, is caught in the very same problem as I am worthless. I thought that “I am worthy” would be the obvious resolution to the belief of I am unworthy but to my surprise it’s not.

I’ve come to think unworthiness and worthiness like a chinese finger trap.

Chinese fingers traps were really popular as a kid where I grew up. We’d always win them at summer church festivals. If you’re not familiar with these the are deceptively ensnaring. You put your fingers in each end of the trap. Your instincts tell you to pull your fingers out of the trap but pulling them out is what causes the trap to be set and your fingers to bet stuck.

No matter how many times I played with the chinese finger trap, I’d fall for it again and again and again. Even when my brain was telling me not to get my fingers caught, even when I rationally knew how to avoid the trap, I’d still fall into it.

This is a perfect metaphor (I think) for the question of worth.

Worthiness and unworthiness are the two sides of the finger trap. As long as we play the game of either worthiness or unworthiness we’re trapped–we pull right (affirming our worthiness) and we are trapped. We pull left (into familiar unworthiness) and we’re still stuck.

What I’ve come to believe is even the statement “I am worthy” is very subtly denying the dignity of a person. It is still part of the trap around worth (even though it sounds so much more affirming than I am unworthy or I am worthless). Deep down I believe we all realize that saying we are worthy is a crock of you- know-what. There are people who can very forthrightly say they are worthy and so on–we see these people as having high self-esteem often enough. My experience, on the contrary, is that they are deeply bound, deeply needy, deeply dependent on their projected self-image. To live from a place of I am worthy is to force oneself into life. It’s a posture that make demands of life (that obviously must be met since after all I’m worthy of them). It’s falsely aggressive.

Worthiness and unworthiness, the energetic finger trap, are both products of a world without grace or redemption. The person who feels unworthy might believe there is so much deeper grace in the universe but they haven’t met the requirements. They are unworthy, they have not earned, such grace. Which goes against the very definition of grace, i.e. unearned, free gift.

Rather than having to gain the approval of others or even life itself (like their unworthy counterparts), the ones who feels worthy also do not believe in nor experience a life of grace. They don’t need the approval of life or others, rather others (and even life itself) exist to serve them. Other people must earn their approval. The worthy ones are, after all, already and forever worthy of the affections, desires, and affirmations of others. There is no grace there because grace, again, is free gift. It is unearned. The same pattern holds both positively (I am worthy) and negatively (I am unworthy).

Unworthiness and worthiness–the two sides of the finger trap.

The key to escape from a chinese finger trap is to counterintuitively push your fingers further into the middle of the trap. As a consequence the trapping mechanism lets loose of its own and the ends widen. At that point your fingers gently slide right out.

We need a similar kind of movement in relation to the energetic topic of worthiness.

The answer to the finger trap of energetic (un)worthiness is Dignity.

Beings are inherently dignified. Being itself, in its essence, is dignified.

Dignity is a quality of the Sovereign Soul. The Sovereign aspect of our being does’t need to earn worthiness, nor does it struggle with having lost worthiness (or never having gained it in the first place). The Sovereign simply swims in the waters of Dignity. Inherent, intrinsic Dignity. And when a person feels the deep inherent Dignity of their Sovereign Soul, then questions about worthiness or unworthiness just drop away. The hooking mechanism of the energetic finger trap has released and the fingers spontaneously free themselves.

The word dignity comes from an ancient root meaning “to take or accept.” It later has the sense of proper or fitting (e.g. proper rank), as well as honor or privilege. The Sovereign Soul has a proper, fitting dimension to its being. It “takes” or rather “accepts” its natural state. It properly fits into the wider realities of Life. The Sovereign Soul has its proper fit, its proper place or “rank” within the deep ordering of Life. There is a rightful sense of its honor, of “privilege” for oneself as well as the proper fit, honors, and privileges accorded other beings.

The word dignity did eventually come to mean worthy–as in “worthy of proper honor, privilege, or respect”. It’s closer to the energy of “taking” rather than “accepting”. Here I mean taking in the negative sense. And this is where the energy goes sideways as now we have to earn our place in life, i.e. our proper fit. A life where we have to earn and struggle for respect and honor. A world where whoever is on top–whoever has wealth or power or control—gets to decide who receives honor and respect and who does not.

This way of living automatically creates stress and tension. If we can earn worthiness than we can of course un-earn it. It is unstable. If one can “take” worthiness, then someone presumably can take it from us. If we are forced to “accept” worthiness, then that means someone else has control over us.

Hence all the elbowing, jockeying, fighting ways of being. All the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” contractual, obligatory relational patterns. All to preserve some semblance of worth.

But it all turns out to be a facade.

The entire arena of competition that runs so much of our world drops away at he level of the Sovereign Soul. Here is true Worth. Here we have true Honor and Respect.

When we connect with Dignity, Capital D, then all this world of posturing, avarice, and competitiveness, is like dead skin. It just flakes off. It doesn’t require a heroic effort to peel it all away, it just peels itself off. The trap has been released.

In this place each person is intrinsically Dignified. I am intrinsically Dignified. You are intrinsically Dignified. So however are all other beings and we begin to notice this obvious truth.

There is however no practice, no meditation, no affirmation, no healing technique, no process for one to gain Dignity. None. Absolutely positively none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. For if Dignity, capital D Dignity, could be gained through some kind of process than it could be lost. If it required some action in order to feel Dignified, in order to be Dignified, then it would have a beginning in time. All things that have beginnings must have endings.

If there is a beginning to Dignity then there was a time when you were not Dignified. And now we’re back to the finger trap. If you work hard and then feel worthy then you must have felt unworthy before and that means you could very easily fall back into feel unworthy. Which means you have to hold on like hell to the feeling of worthiness, which is anxiety producing.

Instead, realize your Sovereign Soul, aka realize your distinct flavor of incarnation. Each of us is a singular expression of the universal process. Each of us is a Personalized Expression of the Life Process. That dimension of your being, your Sovereignty, your Soul, is automatically in a state of Dignity. Dignity is an attribute or quality of The Sovereign Soul. And once there is Dignity, fundamental, intrinsic, inherent Dignity, then the whole game of worthiness and unworthiness simply ends. The finger trap is released and one is liberated from ever having to play such a game.

The chinese finger trap is after all a practical joke which as wikipedia helpfully states is meant to be played on “unsuspecting children or adults.” The worthiness-unworthiness is game is far more serious, far less humorous, than a practical joke. It ruins people’s lives. But so long as we are “unsuspecting” we leave ourselves open to being played.

The feeling of Dignity is an automatic effect of realizing, connecting with, and ultimately identifying with your Sovereign Soul. That’s the counterintuitive move here–like pushing your fingers into the trap. Once you bring your consciousness and inquire into worthiness and unworthiness then you are like the person pushing their fingers into the middle of the trap. You open space. Then you can connect with your Soul and its inherent attribute of Dignity. Then your the fingers of your Sovereignty are freed.

If the Sovereign Soul does not take up this crucial life area, then the self (the ego, the personality) ends up trying to do the work of Dignity. When the self takes control of this life area we don’t end up with Dignity (which as I’ve said is a Sovereign Soul energy) but rather we end up with the focus on self-worth on worthiness, which as we’ve seen, inevitably leads to its opposite energy of unworthiness.

The self, in other words, will never believe it is ultimately worthy. It will always be caught in the game of trying to prove it’s own worth, automatically thereby cultivating a shadow energy of unworthiness, of lack, of a sense of deficiency. There is no way out of that flaw from the ego. The ego runs on a closed loop. Asking the ego/self to do the work of Dignity is asking it to do a job it is not equipped to do. It is unfair for judging it as having failed to do something it is not capable of doing. That way leads to negative, dehumanizing, debilitating shame and a profound sense of worthlessness.

Focusing on building self-worth means the self is supposed to be in charge of the process. It’s right there in the name itself: self-worth. But the self is the very thing that feels and believes itself to be unworthy so how is it that it is going to do the work of creating self-worth? It will have to receive a message that it (the self) is, as it is, deeply flawed and is wrong and therefore needs to change, which of course will only fuel a greater sense of worthlessness. At this point the practice of self-worth which is supposed to create a greater feeling of self-worth is actually creating a deeper sense of worthlessness.

In contrast to that egoic reality, the Sovereign Soul offers an inherent, intrinsic sense of Dignity which cuts through any need to prove worth and thereby the fear being proven unworthy. Only the Sovereignty knows it’s Dignity. Be that one and the rest can start to figure itself out.

03 May 2016 2 comments / READ MORE

Climate Change and The Retrieval of The World Soul

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Healing Arts, Philosophy, Shamanism, The Imaginal, The Soul

A client recently asked me how I would take the learnings from my private practice with individuals in soul work and apply to climate change.

What does soul work have to say about climate change? 

It’s a crucial question and in order to do justice to it a bit of background is necessary. 

A while back I wrote a piece on the interplay of soul work with racism. It was an initial foray into the exploration of what I think soul work means in relationship to collective human identity and expression. 

One definition of a soul is that it is the coordinating subtle field of a being. The soul is what brings coherence to a being. The soul co-ordinates all the information of a being–their pasts, presents, and potential futures–into one fluid, coherency. The soul is what makes us fit (more or less) together as a being. The soul is the deepest essence, the unique expression of a being. The soul is what makes someone that particular being that they alone are and not another. The soul is what makes us us.

The word soul however can also be used in a more collective sense. For example, the soul of a nation, the soul of a people, the soul of a place.

One of the most important aspects of our souls is that they can be hurt. Souls are powerful yes, but also tender and vulnerable. Just like individual souls, collective souls, can experience wounding, negative conditioning (i.e. karma), fragmentation, and illness. In that earlier piece I considered white American racism towards black Americans through the lens of a collective soul illness, a stain on the collective white American soul. Just as there are traditions (e.g. shamanism) that deal for individuals with healing and transforming soul illness, so there are such ways to heal and transform collective souls of their illnesses.

The healing and transformation of a soul (whether individual or collective) goes hand in hand. In my understanding, soul work can be summarized as clearing on the one hand and healing (or transmutation) on the other. In clearing there are certain energies that must simply depart or be recycled. In classic language that’s called an extraction or an exorcism (from the Greek “to cast out”).

On the other hand we have healing or transmutation, also called shadow work. Once energies that need to be cleared are cleared, then what remains is what is to be worked with. In soul work we go into the (remaining) darkness only to find a light hidden in the darkness. We then learn how to release the light. Once the light is released, the darkness dissolves. Transmutation comes from the traditions of alchemy (and tantra)–where it is said that the poison becomes the antidote. The antidote to snake venom is often created from the very same venom itself. The venom in its transmuted or liberated form becomes the antidote. 

Knowing the difference between which energies are to be cleared and which are to be transmuted is central to the entire process.

I’ve written many pieces exploring that transmutation model through the medium of emotions–hate, fear, shame, terror–how all of them have their own enlightened expression. Rather than putting certain emotions into positive or negative emotions, we simply have emotions. The question is whether the emotion is in its conscious and healthy or unconscious and unhealthy state (or some in between state). What is positive or negative is our relationship to our emotions and how we act from our emotions, not the emotions themselves. 

In alchemy lead, the basest metal, was transmuted into gold, i.e. the most purified metal. We take the base or unconscious forms of emotions and transmute them into their purified expression. The lead becomes gold, the poison becomes antidote, the darkness becomes light. That is soul work.

(Keep this view in mind as I’m going to apply it to climate change in a moment).

This soul work view is opposed to views that seek to “destroy evil”, i.e. the war mindset that dominates our world. Wars against poverty, terror, crime, drugs, cancer, you name it. These wars only ever worsen the problems. Has the drug war done anything except create a gargantuanly greater degree of violence, suffering, and pain? 

In soul work the (re)solution always lies hidden within the problem itself. The war view only seeks to destroy the problem/enemy. All the war mindset does is create further brokenness and fragmentation. This occurs automatically because the solution lies within the problem itself, not in the eradication of the problem.

The problem (really the symptom or exterior expression) however has to be handled with exquisite, and extreme care. It is a live wire and needs to be worked with in a very sensitive, refined manner. But when it is done properly, the light will be released from the darkness, the lead will turn to gold, and the poison will transmute into its own antidote.

With that background we can approach this topic of collective urgency, arguably the most important issue facing humanity as a whole: climate change.

Does the framework of collective souls and soul work-transmutation reveal a deeper meaning to climate change? And if so, what?

So first how does the idea of collective soul patterning shed light on the subject? Consider two major collective souls—the soul of humanity and the soul of the Earth (aka The World Soul or Anima Mundi).

The World Soul, the Soul of the Earth, is the collective organizing subtle field of all life on and as Earth. The World Soul is the energy, the essence of Earth Life. The waters, the winds, the tides, the tectonic plates, the grasses, insects, mammals, birds, all animal life, the trees, the skies, the mountains, the plains, the coastlines, the deserts, the forests, the jungles. The psychic reality of all of that is the World Soul. 

The World Soul is not simply then a concept but a lived, conscious reality. The World Soul has been experienced by seers and visionaries through a multitude of human cultures and time periods, e.g. through the artful use of plant medicines, as well as in more classic meditation or visionary shamanic journeys.

On the other hand we have a collective soul to humanity. This soul of our humanity carries the deep memory of all of our human stories and journeys, all our pasts glories and tragedies, all our present experiences, and all possible future paths (at least in potential). 

My belief is that climate change is a symptom, a global symptomatic, material, physical response, to the psychic fracture between The World Soul and the collective Human Soul. 

As humans, our collective soul has disowned The World Soul.* Earth is disowned in our human soul expression. Since soul is the organizing subtle pattern of all reality, this disowning of the World Soul infects each and every sector of human expression.

For example, in economics the impact of technology and commerce on Earth is put in a category called “externalities”. To “externalize” the Earth is an act of psychic dismemberment. It is a kind of psychic lobotomy or amputation. 

To externalize the Earth is to put the World Soul in the shadow. It is to disown and “otherize” an aspect of one’s own being.

In soul work there’s an understanding that once an energy is sent into the shadow it will always reveal itself in a distorted, twisted, “sideways” manner. The reason the energy comes out in a distorted, sideways form is in order to be heard. It is trying to being seen, understood, appreciated, and welcomed back home. In practice however we often become so focused on the negative symptomatic expression of the shadowed energy that we miss the deeper message. 

Climate change is the symptomatic expression of humans putting The World Soul into the shadow. The World Soul is sent into the shadow, it is disowned, it is “externalized” and then it comes out in a distorted, twisted form. Namely climate change. 

The symptoms of climate change become the focus of attention, controversy, and struggle. Meanwhile the deeper message is all but muted: the World Soul has to be re-owned by humans.

The solution always lies hidden within the problem. The light is always hidden within the darkness. 

To “solve” the climate crisis will require many people working on many fronts simultaneously. But one necessary form of such endeavors must be psychic transmutation work. At the core, climate change is the outward expression of inward shadow in the collective human soul.

Please recall however that the poison transmuted becomes the antidote.

Climate change is the goading psychic act attempting to initiate us as humans into actual maturity. Either we will meet that initiation or, in true initiatory experience, if we fail, we will die. We will not just die, we humans will largely be annihilated. Perhaps AI will have become sentient by then and they will spontaneously learn to adapt and continue the evolutionary trajectory. Perhaps life will collapse back to the explosion and profusion of insects, viruses, bacteria, and the like and begin a new process from there. Perhaps like mammals at the time of dinosaur comet, some other life form not even in our radar/awareness right now will come to propagate a future. 

If however we were to meet the initiation, truly transmute the energies and re-own The World Soul, then a very different world than the one we currently live would be concretely realized.

Naomi Klein has written persuasively that climate change changes everything. She is particularly focused in that book on how if we deal with climate change correctly then it becomes the opportunity/medium through which to rebalance the structural injustices of poverty and power in our collective human expression. The upshot of correctly addressing climate change is we end creating a truly just economics.

She’s right. Emphasis on the word “if”….“If we deal with the climate change issue correctly…”

Still she’s correct. In shadow work the problem transmuted releases light and wisdom that we cannot imagine beforehand. Climate change is as I said an initiation. If we passes through the initiation, if we squeeze through the eye of this needle, then what will be revealed on the far side would be more glorious than we could have ever imagined.

(Re)solving climate change opens up a world far more beautiful than one any of us can currently imagine. But the only way out is through. Conversely not dealing properly with climate change will continue bringing forth a world we can partially, nightmarishly imagine at this point (but only minimally feel I would argue).

I would take Klein’s thesis one step further. Climate change is the opportunity to solve the underlying economic injustice of the world, yes absolutely. Climate change is also the opportunity to overcome the psychic alienation between The World Soul and our collective Human Soul. 

That alienation is wreaking incalculable damage, a damage so great the only term for it is the loss of soul.

Shamans speak of soul loss. Souls lose pieces of themselves due to trauma, illness, or negative choice. These pieces are not obliterated or destroyed. They fragment. They go into exile. They are strewn along the road somewhere, hidden. Missing-in-action. 

Shamans then help with soul retrievals, finding the lost pieces of a soul and restoring them. 

The World Soul is in exile in relationship to humans. Or our human soul is in exile from The World Soul. The World Soul itself is in a state of soul loss. Climate change is the symptomatic expression of such global soul loss. 

What is needed then is a collective soul retrieval of the World Soul. That is the interior psychic work whose exterior representation is creating a world of economic and ecological justice and sustainability. The inner and the outer are mirror images of each other, both are two sides of one integrated process.

* It could be argued that it is not the collective human soul but the collective Western human soul refracted through globalization that is the cause of the alienation to the World Soul.

30 Nov 2015 2 comments / READ MORE

Getting Purgatory Over Early

“She who comes to be saved, comes to be saved through a fire.” –Origen

“St. Ambrose of Milan speaks of a kind of ‘baptism of fire’ which is located at the entrance to Heaven, and through which all must pass, at the end of the world.  (wiki on purgatory)

“You’re getting purgatory over early.” –My Mom

November 2nd (yesterday) is, in the Roman Catholic Calendar, the Feast of All Souls. This feast is a Catholicizing Christianizing one, predicated on the earlier aboriginal traditions of ancestor veneration, both in European (“pagan’) religions as well as in The Americas, e.g. Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Mexico.

November 1st in the Roman Catholic Calendar is All Saints Day, a day to remember those whose souls entered into paradise directly upon death. All Saints is the root of the word Halloween–which is Eve of All Hallows (hallowed = saintly).

All Souls, on the other hand, (Nov 2nd) remembers those who died with, as it were, “work still to do.” That is to say, the remembrance of those who experienced grace but the more comprehensive purifying effects of grace had not yet taken place.

During the Middle Ages, the practice of remembering one’s ancestors became connected to the rising doctrine of purgatory. All Souls Day became in particular a day to pray for the release of souls from purgation.

In the later middle ages, a series of abusive and manipulative practices around purgatory became big business. It was these practices–for example the selling of indulgences–that became the rallying cry for the Protestant Reformation.

Consequently, the doctrine of purgatory later came to be denounced in total with the Reformation. While I agree with the criticism of the abusive practices surrounding purgatory, I think the loss of purgatory has been a major loss for Western consciousness.

What I mean is that though the term purgation evokes a lot of resistance in people, I think it’s a wonderful term and a beauteous grace–one we need to recapture. It’s important to keep in mind that the doctrine of purgatory is for those who have already been saved and the healing and purifying effects of salvation still have to do their work.

In The Divine Comedy, when Dante arises from Hell and sees Mt. Purgatory he immediately weeps, for he knows he is already (as it were) in paradise. He is already assured a place in paradise. The long climb up on Mt. Purgatory towards Paradise (Heaven) is a path of graceful unburdening so that he might rise up. (I’m going to come back to this point in a bit).

I was raised very traditionally Roman Catholic. Praying for those in purgatory was a common part of my upbringing.

When things would be rough or unnecessarily harsh, my mom would say (as quoted above) that I was “getting purgatory over early.” What she meant of course was that one could go through purgatory while alive here on earth. Basically one could work off one’s purgation here on earth so as to have less of it on the other side of the veil of death.

Now as weird (or potentially masochistic) as that worldview might appear, I actually think there’s something to it, though not in the way I believe my mom tended to (mis)understand it. It isn’t about just random suffering happening to you, causing you to pay off some kind of penalty and either you go through it now or later. That makes God a sadist.

The truth of purgation is that to be saved one must pass through a baptism of fire as Origen and St. Ambrose said. That fire of grace is purging, purifying. It is alchemy–turning the lead of our being into gold. (This view accords with shamanic traditions the world over btw). And that fire can be experienced on this side of the grave (otherwise it will be experienced on the other side).

“He who comes to be saved, comes to be saved through a fire.”

Saved here means experiencing the entrance into paradise, i.e. the soul (the lowercase ‘s’ is important here) ascends to the realms of paradise.

In traditional shamanic cosmology there are classically three worlds: the lower world, the middle world (our world), and the upper world. The upper world is what most people would call heaven (though more technically should be called paradise). The middle world is our world. In Roman Catholic theology, the lower world is divided into two sections: hell and purgatory. I see hell and purgatory more along a continuum than a strict division as in Roman Catholic thought.*

The point is this: the imagery purgatory consists of fire.

When the fire is embraced it turns out not to be the source of suffering but rather the source of healing and purifying grace.

The deepest hell, as Dante so brilliantly understood, is coldness. Hell is pure isolation, incoherence, dissociation, alienation, and traumatic freeze. Hell is not hot. Hell is ice cold. Having worked with hellish energies and realities in people, I can tell you that Dante’s depiction of the bottom of hell as total frozen is not a metaphor but a literal description.

Purgatory is fire. Paradise is the ecstasy that occurs when one acclimates to the temperature of God’s fire. The fire no longer burns but becomes pure bliss.

So if November 1st (All Saints) is the day to remember all those in paradise. If November 2nd is to remember those in purgatory. Then I would propose that November 3rd is a great day to pray for our own purgation here on earth. November 1st is All Saints, November 2nd is All Souls, November 3rd could be Day of Our Own Purgation.

When people work with plant medicines, they purge, literally, bodily. In energy work, deadened energies are burned off us. In trauma work, when places of freeze re-awake, they release the flight or fight mechanism (“the fire”) held underneath the frozen exterior.

It’s like going outside on a cold day and your fingers become numb. You come back indoors and your fingers start to thaw out. As they do, your fingers ache, even hurt because feeling is coming back to them. The ache however is a wonderful sign because you know that once your fingers warm back up to room temperature, the pain will go away. You know the numbness is wearing off.

It’s the same with purgatory–whether you face it in this life or on the other side.

Our souls are deeply numb. Only heat is going to wake them back up and bring back feeling. In the intermediate period between the numbness beginning to wear off and the fingers being fully back to normal temperature, that is the period of purgation.

The fire brings back feeling. Our world is predicated on dissociation, on numbing out, on frozen traumatic conditioning. Our souls are ill. Pieces of our souls lie forsaken and strewn about.

What is needed then is a cleansing fire. A fire of Love, to reignite our frozen souls. With that fire comes pain but not suffering.

And this is a key point. Anyone who has ever gone through a truly purgative and cleansing process knows that that what occurred is they felt into and through the pain and as they did the suffering (amazingly) decreased.

Suffering is largely what happens when we do not stay directly with pain–or rather with the series of sensations we typically unhelpfully label as pain. So with the fire comes the purging, no doubt. But it is not a pain built around moral punishment. Here in the popular traditions of medieval Christianity really are problematic. The pain is not to pay off some penalty. Purgatory is not jail time with God the Vengeful Judge.

The process is not built out of a negative sense of Judgment but rather proper Judgment, which is to say Merciful, Loving Justice.

I can’t stress this point enough. In my experience working with people what prevents them from facing purgation is the sense that they are being punished. In other words, they resist the process because they believe the process communicates a message of negative shame. 

“You’re a bad person.”
“This is karmic retribution for your sins.”
“You deserve this [as punishment].”

These false beliefs need to be burned.

“They who comes to be saved, come to be saved through a fire.”

Being purged has nothing to do with being judged as a failure or fundamentally bad. It is precisely the opposite.

Purgation is a process that reminds us that in our essence we are fundamentally good. In our essential nature we are whole, redeemed, beloved.

We have however strayed from our essential nature. As such we have picked up the residue, the accretions of living in ways out of alignment to our essential nature.

Purgation is a message from God saying we are Loved and offering us a way to be released of the violence, trauma, dissociation that burdens and haunts our souls.

An ancient image in the Christian tradition is that the soul is a mirror. The mirror has unfortunately becomes obstructed by layers of mud that have clung to the surface of the mirror. The mirror is still a mirror but in practice is is not functioning as one–i.e. the essential light of a person (their soul) is still present but no able to be experienced. 

Purgation is to remove the mud that has caked onto the soul. It is one of the best feelings in the world just after having been purged. To feel the release of some weight one has been carrying for years, decades, lifetime, or maybe even lifetimes. That is a direct experience of Grace.

Once the mud is gone, the mirror naturally reflects the light of God. That is what is meant by Paradise.

In my practice, I’m blessed to be able to witness the purgation of souls in real-time. In my own path, I have experienced numerous times the grace of having my soul purged by God.
The reason St. Ambrose said there was a baptism of fire one must go through before entering the gates of paradise is precisely that. We want to be as cleansed as possible, as much as grace will allow in our case, to reflect the Light of Loving Truth.

The way is to trust that purification is happening with a space of Grace (a fundamental space of Resource and Safety). When we learn to co-operate and work intelligently with purgation, we can make it go relatively more smoothly.

But go through purgation we will.

The word salvation comes from a root meaning “healing”–like the world salve. Purgation is the pain that occurs as the Great Doctor lances boils, excises growths, and extracts the poisons held in our souls.

That is why purgation is grace. It’s not a moralistic process. It’s not a criminal process. It’s medicine for the soul. Shamans, recall, are called doctors of the soul.

On All Saints Day (Nov 1) we pray for the saints and ask them to pray for us. On All Souls (Nov 2) we pray for the souls of our ancestors and ask them to pray for us. On what I’m calling Purgation Day (Nov 3) I recommend we pray for the graceful purgation of our souls. We pray for our souls and ask our souls to pray for us.

I can testify to how truth of Origen’s words that all who be healed (saved) must do so through a fire. I can testify to the truth of St. Ambrose’s words that all would enter into paradise (bliss) must first go through the graceful baptism of fire. And I can testify to the truth of my mom’s words that it is possible to go through purgatory while here alive in this reality.

* Personally I tend to the view, strong in the Eastern Christian tradition (e.g. Origen) of the apocatastasis, i.e. that there will be a universal salvation. Or at least the option of it. Contrary to Roman Catholic theology, I don’t believe in eternal punishment in hell. I do believe in the possibility of everlasting damnation–though I’m unsure if that actually applies to any soul. What I mean is that I believe all souls are given infinite chances to be redeemed. Whether they will accept that offer I cannot say.

02 Nov 2015 1 comment / READ MORE

Fear Is Not The Opposite of Love: A Critique of A Course in Miracles

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Mystics, Philosophy, Shamanism, Spirituality, The Soul

“Fear is the opposite of Love.” –A Course in Miracles

A Course in Miracles is one of, if not the, most popular spiritual texts of The New Thought tradition. The back story of the writing of a the text is a bit complex and quite fascinating actually (see history here). Essentially A Course in Miracles is claimed to be the words of an inner voice, given to Helen Schucman. Schucman believed that voice to be the voice of Jesus. The text is often popularly shortened to The Course and I’ll use that shorthand throughout but important to remember the official title is A Course in Miracles (A, not The).

The Course or Course-inspired views of spiritual life have come into mainstream popularity, particularly through the writings of contemporary spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson. Those ideas have now extended to a new generation of spiritual teachers, particularly strong in what’s known as the spiritual but not religious community of seekers in North America. I encounter ideas who have their roots in The Course (and certain strands of New Thought theology more broadly) constantly in my private practice. Overall what I see are Course ideas and beliefs creating problems for practitioners. While it’s far too much to explore the entirety of the teaching of The Course, I do want to explore this quotation:

“Fear is the opposite of Love.”

This is the core claim of The Course. It’s also in my view misguided. In what follows, I want to explore why I believe that claim to be false, as well as what relationship, if any, fear and love should have to each other.

To explore this topic I’m going to use quotations from Marianne Williamson’s classic book Return to Love. Return to Love is a popular rendering of A Course in Miracles. Return to Love I think brilliantly portrays and clarifies the overall teaching of The Course. My disagreements are with elements of the teaching of The Course itself. But in order to understand what The Course is arguing for, Return to Love is, in my mind, the best entry point.

Here for example is a very important quotation from the beginning of Return to Love that lays out the overall vision of A Course in Miracles:

“A Course in Miracles calls itself a ‘mind training’ in the relinquishment of a thought system based on fear, and the acceptance instead of a thought system based on love.” (Return to Love p.20).

I want to be clear then about what my critique is because it’s a somewhat subtle point. I’m NOT arguing that The Course in Miracles fails to achieve what it sets out to do. I do see people who follow The Course moving from a thought system based on fear towards a thought system based in love. I do see The Course’s teaching fulfilling its stated mission. Of course no one ever completely follows that path in every moment of their lives, but as a teaching it does I believe succeed in its stated goal.

It’s that goal however that I believe is a problem. I think starting with the mind (‘a thought system’) is ultimately the wrong place to start spiritual teaching. The mind needs eventually to be incorporated into an overall integrated spiritual teaching yes, but I don’t believe it’s the place to begin. More importantly I don’t believe the ultimate aim or purpose of spiritual practice should be to move us from fear to love.

Not starting with the mind and not moving from fear to love. The two are related but distinct elements. The rest of this piece is an exploration of those intertwined critiques.

Now before diving fully into this topic, I realize I’m stepping into some tender territory here. I know plenty of people who have received enormous benefit from following The Course. For example, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love is a testament to the grace The Course brought to her life. I acknowledge that I’m going to be touching some raw nerves.

It’s certainly true that people can (and do) receive benefit from following The Course. This isn’t an abstract proposition–I know people who fit this profile. They are friends, acquaintances, clients, and the like.

Nonetheless I still maintain that the benefits of The Course bring with them unforeseen shadows. It’s these shadows I want to explore. I believe it’s important to explore these shadows because they often go unspoken. Bringing the shadows to light allows us to retain the beauties of The Course while releasing it’s flaws (of which I think there are some significant ones).

So to the critiques….

A central reason I believe that the mind is a poor place to begin spiritual practice is that the mind inherently creates binaries: light versus dark, up versus down, truth versus falsehood, feminine versus masculine, the list of such binaries is endless.* This binary formulation is the very nature of the mind. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

In The Course the fundamental binary is between Fear and Love. Once that fundamental binary is set, then The Course becomes a mind training to move from fear to love. Very often when a binary is set up, one side will be seen as positive and one as negative. In the Course this is definitely the case. In the Course, Fear is wholly negative and Love is wholly positive. One is hell (fear) and one is heaven (love).

Since the teaching is sourcing itself in the mind and has created a binary, then the training has to focus on how to move out of one (fear) and into the other (love). If one views the world as divided between Fear and Love, with fear being evil and Love being holy, then obviously and rightly the next question to ask is:

“How do I move from the evil (fear) to the holy (love)?”

It’s in that context that we can understand The Course’s emphasis on the notion of “shifts in perception”. Perhaps the most quoted line of The Course is “a miracle is a shift in perception”. A shift that is from fear to love.

Having created the fundamental metaphysical binary between Fear and Love, The Course will then argue that fear is unreal. The illusory nature of fear is the key to moving from it to love. In the teaching of the Course, once we see that fear is not real and connect with what is real (Love), then fear melts away.

Unfortunately the human being is much more than simply a mind and fear is much more real than a thought. And here is where things begin to unravel.

The crux of the problem is this:

Fear is an emotion. It is also intimately related to the proper functioning of the human nervous system.

Love, on the other hand, is a choice.

Contrasting Fear with Love is contrasting an emotion with a choice. That’s not comparing apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing apples to 747s. Or apples to duplexes.

The Course teaches a way of mentally shifting from fear into the spiritual state of love. Unfortunately the shadow-side of that maneuver is that it bypasses human sensation and emotion.

Describing Fear as illusory may be true when looked at from the level of the mind, but it’s definitely NOT true when it comes to the level of the human body and emotional life.

Attempting to route around fear, rather than turning towards it, leaves the person subtly (or not so subtly) quite fearful and anxious. Paradoxically it is only when we turn towards and embrace our fears that fear stops controlling us.

But that is not what The Course teaches.

What The Course does is exploit a temporary short-circuiting mechanism of the human bodymind. That’s why it can and does work but only for so long and only in a partial way.

Williamson states:

“The Course teaches that fear is literally a bad dream. It is as though the mind has been split in two; one part stays in touch with love, and the other part veers into fear. Fear manufactures a kind of parallel universe where the unreal seems real, and the real seems unreal.” (p.23)

Fear is not a bad dream. At least it need not be. It’s no illusion. Fear is simply an aspect of human existence as a sensory, emotive, incarnate being. Realize this and the neat and tidy metaphysical system of strict separation between love and fear begins to blur and break down.

The Course is named a course for a reason. As a course, it uses imagery of training. There’s a method. Life is a school.

I’d submit that all these metaphors are a consequence of the fact that one is beginning the process at the point at which fear is most calcified, i.e. the mind. Fear begins as sensation, from which it takes on its emotional charge. When Fear is met at the level of our sensation and emotion then it can be worked with. Fear can be raw, even intense at times, or more garden variety. But fear in the sensory and emotional realms–when rightly worked with–is actually quite supple and fluid. It’s dream-like in its movement but it is literally not a bad dream. Fear is literally a sensation and emotion.

When we deny our fear such that it spreads from our nervous system through our emotional self into the mind, then we are too late. Fear in the mind is far too rigid. Therefore it takes the most forcefulness to undo it from that point. Hence a course, a training regimen.

Realistically there are only two options at the point at which fear has overrun the mind:

1. return back to the level of sensation and emotion and learn to work with fear (i.e. work on it where it originates)


2. deny its reality and try to route around it.

The Course chooses the second option. It therefore does not undo fear so much as skips over it.

The second option–the one the Course chooses–would be a solution if one could maintain that state of Love 24/7. That however is wildly unrealistic. Consequently as soon as one falls back from Love then the fear will return, likely with more power attached to it.

If however we sink to the level of our sensation and our emotions, then fear is simply another aspect of our human existence. Fear has wisdom to teach us. If we set up our spiritual system as moving from Fear to Love, then we will never learn from Fear. We will never gain the gifts of Fear because we are always running from it, rather than turning toward and (intelligently) facing it.

It’s not possible to turn towards and embrace our Fear from the place of our minds. The Course is right about this point, but wrong in its assumption that therefore fear is to be denied altogether.

It is however very much possible to turn towards, to become intimate with, and to embrace our fear. It becomes possible for fear to be transmuted. It is possible–indeed I would argue essential–that fear be transmuted and its hidden light released.

“Fear is to love as darkness is to light.” –Return to Love, p. 22

The view of The Course is that there is only Fear and Love, Darkness and Light and we embrace the Light and deny the Darkness. I argue instead we should become darkwalkers, we should critique the bias towards The Light (aka “High Vibrations”) and instead learn to find the Light hidden in the darkness.

In the perspective of The Course, fear is never redeemed. Fear is never transmuted or turned into Light. No part of fear is connected to the Light.

But all those views turn out to be wrong. I would take the wisdom of Fear any day of the week (and twice Sunday) over the foolishness of such seeming profundity.

Fear is actually a word commonly used for three related but distinct emotions: fear, anxiety, and terror/panic.

–Fear is an emotional response to perceived threats.
–Anxiety is an emotion that warns us that we’ve entered a place of some instability in our lives, like a boat rocking on choppy waves.
–Terror/Pain is the wisdom that comes forth under great duress to take the hit of trauma for us.

From the point of the view of the nervous system, fear is a process intricately related to our flight, fight, and freeze responses.

From the point of view of the soul (or our energy), fear is often a harbinger, a call to enter the cave and descend into the underworld, to become initiated–like Batman.

From the point of view of our emotions, fear is an invitation to connect to our animal nature, to sharpen our senses, and attune to our environment.

Different teachings exist to cultivate this intimate relationship with fear–emotionally, instinctually, and energetically. We can learn to regulate and work with our fear emotionally, bodily, and energetically.

All of those are ways of wisdom.

The Course however does not offer us such wisdom, wisdom we so desperately require in our world. The amount of fear, anxiety, and terror in our world continues to rise. The Course offers no solution to working with those emotions, only a way to try to flee from it. Except, in trying to run from fear, we are bringing unconscious fear with us. 

As Williamson states quoting directly from The Course itself:

“The ego is literally a fear based thought.”

No it’s not. The ego is literally not at all a fear based thought.

We see here the problem of defining the central aspect of humanity as our minds. The Course is locked into a worldview characteristic of the 17th and 18th centuries European thought, e.g. that of Rene Descartes. A worldview in which the human being is a disembodied mind only marginally attached to a material object it possesses called ‘it’s body.’ Our minds are only one aspect of our incarnation which include our physical, emotional, instinctual, energetic, and spiritual aspects. What The Course does is take one aspect of us (the mind) and separates out of the context of the entire range of our humanity and declares it the center around which everything else orbits. This decision is deeply confused and problematic.

Since The Course defines the mind as the central aspect of our humanity (as opposed to one important aspect of our humanity) it has to turn everything into a thought. It turns Fear, which is an emotion, into thought. It’s turns Love, which is an aspect of will, into thought. It turns the ego–which is a feeling mechanism of being a human organism–into a thought. It even turns our spiritual nature into a thought:

As Williamson states, “The altar to God is the human mind. To ‘desecrate the altar’ is to fill it with non-loving thoughts.” (p. 24)

In so doing, The Course denies our souls and spirits as transcendent of our minds, which all the great mystical traditions will most certainly tell you they are. Our souls and spirits include our minds yes but they transcend them as well.

The human mind is not the altar to God. Saying so ends up convincing people that thinking about being spiritual is the same as actual spiritual realization (which by definition transcends the mind).

By defining us simply as minds, The Course cuts out our nervous systems, our emotional lives, as well as the aspects of us that are beyond our minds. It’s represses both the “lower” range of our incarnation (sensation, emotion) as well as the “higher” range of our incarnation (souls, spirits), leaving us claustrophobically trapped in the middle range of our incarnation (the mind).

Which brings us back to the ego. The ego is not a fear-based thought. The ego is what it feels like to be a bodily human organism. The ego is the feeling of being an individual homo sapien sapien. The ego is the feeling of being a bodily human self-conscious organism.

The human body is a feeling mechanism. The human organism feels and senses moment to moment. It feels and senses the environment, other beings, and its own internal state(s). Sensation is how your nervous system feels. Emotions are how your heart feels. Thought is how your brain feels. And the ego is how the bodymind as a total, single organism feels.

When understood this way the ego is not the enemy, just as fear isn’t either. When however we don’t understand the ego in its proper depth as the total feeling response of the human bodymind organism, then we come to experience ourselves as an isolated egoic subject separate from the body. And such a being is inherently fearful (in the negative sense). The Course starts from that isolated fearful stance and then tries to correct it by shifting out of it into Love.

The result of doing that however is that The Course doesn’t understand the deeper feeling reality of the ego. It takes a very immature form of the ego and then defines the ego only as its immature form.

This is why a spiritual system based on the idea of a mental training course is precisely unhelpful. Learning a mental training system does not teach anyone how to feel. In particular The Course does not teach us how to feel with and through our fear.

“Our work is the work of casting fear from the world.” –Return to Love

I don’t believe this is true. Franklin Roosevelt said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I think he was wrong. The thing to fear is not knowing how to work with fear wisely. Not knowing how to transmute our fear is indeed a quite scary proposition. It’s one that rules our world.

But Fear as such is not our enemy. What we do with Fear–use it to abuse people, project it onto others, allow it to debilitate us–these must be cast out. What we do out of unconscious, negative, shadowed Fear that is negative.

Healthy conscious integrated fear however is the way to resolve those issues. It’s not Love that has an answer to negative, unconscious Fear. It’s only healthy awakened fear that can solve that problem. And we will never access awakened healthy fear if we have denied its very existence by labelling all fear as inherently illusory and destructive.

When we treat Fear as the enemy we make it into the scapegoat. We seek to purge it from ourselves and purify it from the world. That is a truly terrifying prospect (with terrible historical weight behind it).

Fear is very much real on the level of our nervous system and our emotions. To deny the reality of fear on the levels of our being on which it exists is a dangerous and ultimately foolish perspective. Any spiritual system like The Course that teaches that fear is not real is inevitably leading to anti-material spirituality, a spirituality that will deny body, flesh, and earth as the truly spiritual abode because fear is very much an intrinsic aspect of our bodily human existence. Fear is in our bellies, our hearts, our spleens, not just our brains.

Saying fear is the opposite of love and that we need to move from fear to love weirdly leaves fear forever unloved. The way fear is cast from the world is not by making it unreal, but rather by transforming it. It is Love, the choice to embrace Fear and transmute it in the heart, that alone can cast the negative expressions of Fear from this world. In the view of The Course there is no redemption, there is no transfiguration, no true liberation of physicality, materiality, earth, emotion, flesh, and blood. In the Course there is only a spiritual escape from it all, leaving fear further marginalized only to return in darker, more terrible forms. Fear needs to be transformed by being brought into the Heart of Love, not denying its reality.

Fear does not intrinsically lead to the dark side (contra Master Yoda). Fear can be our ally and it needs to be an ally in the struggle for goodness and love. This path we must walk.

* Though this isn’t my focus here, it is true that the mind can also do various forms of self or meta-reflection. In can work with binaries as dialectics. It can deconstruct the binaries. It can begin to integrate them in various complex ways. But no matter what it’s still within the basic whirl of the binary.

09 Oct 2015 3 comments / READ MORE

Infinity +1: Spirituality for the 21st Century

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Mystics, Philosophy, Spirituality, The Soul

This site is dedicated to soul work. It’s especially dedicated to the development of a spiritual teaching for the 21st century, a spiritual teaching that takes souls seriously. Consequently, I’ve written a number of pieces exploring the nature of spiritual awakening. I’ve written about loving presence, bliss, and most recently on the true understanding of Shakti (Radiance). 

In so doing, I’ve been revealing classic signs or expressions of spiritual awakening.

But it is important to recognize that Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are NOT the ultimate truth. They are effects in the human bodymind of touching into something we might call the ultimate truth. Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are the consequence of this “something” flooding our humanness, not the something itself. 

This something is called variously The Ultimate, The Divine, Spirit, The One Without a Second, The All, Buddha Mind, The Godhead, The Void, etc.

What this means is that spiritual states like Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are not to be sought as ends in themselves. We aren’t seeking them as spiritual states to consume for personal gratification. The great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche labeled that false approach “spiritual materialism.”
Rather Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are attributes of that prior something. We’re interested in that prior something whatever or whoever it may be. Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are pointers. They are signs that as humans we are connected and properly in touch with this “something.” Presence being when the human mind uncoils in the face of The Ultimate. Heart the center of the chest, The Creative Impulse the belly, Radiance the root, and Bliss the breath-energy and body as a whole.

This approach is a “descending” or “incarnational” model of spirituality because it starts with Presence and works “down” from there. Down in the sense of our bodyminds opening in a descending fashion to the Ultimate Reality.

Because these spiritual effects or attributes are so powerful, however, they can become alluring, even addictive. We can easily forget they are pointers. We forget what they are pointing to and take them as ends in themselves. We see to grasp, cling, and hold onto them (i.e. “spiritual materialism”). 

So it’s crucial to remember that what I’ve been exploring through my writing and in actual experience through my teaching is how connecting to the spiritual pointers point us back to that Something.

Words like The Ultimate, The One, Spirit, The Divine are stand-in words for that Something, that something of which Presence, Bliss, Radiance, Creativity, and Heart are attributes. 

A term like Spirit is just that…a term. It’s not something to be taken literally. As if Spirit were actually some kind of gigantic ethereal spirit.

In fact all those terms: The Ultimate, The Divine, Spirit, The One Without a Second, The Buddha Nature, these are all just that–terms. metaphors. Any term that has ever been chosen in history to name that something is just a term. Some terms are relatively speaking more helpful and illuminating than others, but none contain that something. 

No word, no term, no metaphor can adequately name that something. 

In Buddhism this teaching is known as shunyata, i.e. emptiness. All terms are empty of the ability to name that something. The word “that something” is itself inadequate because it’s means some-thing as opposed to other things. And this “something” is not in opposition to other things.

It’s empty, it’s vacant of such a meaning. 

All the words, all the phrases are Void (shunyata). The terms are not the ultimate truth. They are void. In Taoism they say,

“The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.”

So names for that something are never in the end adequate to the task. At best they are imaginative metaphors.

But this something is something. No word or phrase can ever adequately contain and control and name that something. All those terms, all those words are empty. But that something is not an absence. That something is definitely not empty.

In fact, it’s the total opposite. It’s not empty but absolute fullness. It’s a Void yes. But a Void that turns out, the moment one experiences it, to bring forth Love, Creativity, Radiance, Bliss, and Luminous Presence. It brings these qualities forth spontaneously, without effort. It is a pure Grace.

The Void then, Sprit, is not a lack of something but an emptiness that allows for everything to happen simultaneously. This Void, This Spirit, is not something other than the world of our experience. It is the opening, the clearing, in which everything is happening and which everything is an expression of. To experience that is to experience the natural, spontaneous, unplanned for, arising of Wakeful Presence, Radiance, Bliss, Creative Desire, and Unconditional Love. 

In other words, the way we know we’ve “locked into” that All-Encompassing, Bright Void is again through the effects, the attributes of Presence, Bliss, Radiance, Heart, and Creativity.

This is true nonduality or spiritual awakening. 

My argument goes one step further, one step beyond the traditional enlightenment or nondual teachings. The argument of this teaching that the only way to truly incarnate this something, this Void of Pure Light and Love, is as a Soul. That is, each of us is a singular, irreducible version of That Luminous Void. We are the entire process of Creation manifest in a personalized form. The entire process–gross, subtle, and causal. Physical, emotional, mental, cultural, political, psychological, subtle, spiritual.

Put them all in the blender, hit puree and you get a Soul.

Said another way:

Only by becoming properly bounded can we truly embody infinities.

In traditional enlightenment teaching there tends to be a bias towards “no boundaries”. Spirituality is typically about becoming one with The All. Spirituality is about what is universal, the same for all of us. There is a very important truth there–the truth of deep equality and humility. But what traditional spirituality does not offer (in my mind) is a concrete way to manifest and incarnate this realization in the midst of daily life…at least for those of us not living in caves or monasteries.

If we take our spiritual nature however to be our True Nature, then our True Nature turns out to not be our own but rather a universal (and therefore non-personal) one. Spiritual teaching that over-emphasizes The Oneness over The Many-ness promotes a conformist model, it tends to deny emotion, and creates a very static homogenous kind of space (e.g. everybody shaves their heads or wears the same color robes or takes new names, etc.)

The Soul is about what is singular, distinct, and flavorful about our being. The Soul is about irreducible-ness. The Soul creates the proper sphere of one’s being. The Soul creates a true awakened boundary for a being. It’s not a boundary that separates them off (like the ego) but a boundary that allows for true participation, true communion, and true relationship.

Only by becoming properly bounded can we truly embody infinities.
Only as Souls can we incarnate our realization of Spirit. 

So to review:

Spiritual attributes like Presence, Heart, Radiance, Bliss are natural, spontaneous expressions of the realization of something prior to (yet inclusive of) those realities.

Call that something prior The Godhead, The Divine, Spirit, The Void, The One. Just don’t take those names to be anything other than pointers because most precisely there is No Name for That One (including even The Unnamed). 

Because Presence, Radiance, Bliss and the like are expressions or attributes of The One, they are not to be sought as ends in themselves. They are simply pointers or graces, signs of realization. The realization of The Void-The Divine is what is ultimately important. Presence, Radiance, and Bliss are not to be denied but they aren’t to be sought or clung to either (that is the error of spiritual materialism).

To truly live and incarnate realization of The One (The Void, The Godhead) one must do so through The Soul. It is only the Soul that paradoxically can create a unique sphere or boundary of one’s being, a boundary that is somehow able to hold the infinite within it. 

As kids you may remember the game where you would be constantly one-upping each other.

Someone would say, “I’m smarter times a hundred.” “Yeah, well I’m smarter times a million.” “I’m smarter times 300 million.” “I”m smarter times a billion”. “I’m smarter times a trillion.” 

And on and on it would go until someone said: 

“I’m smarter times infinity.” 

And then the reply would inevitably come: “Smarter times infinity plus one.” 

To which the counter-reply was always, “You can’t have more than infinity.” 

In this teaching however we can. Infinity +1 turns out to be correct view. The Infinite (Spirit) is embraced by a Soul, which adds a +1. The +1 there being a unique, singular, irreducible incarnation of The Infinite. It is the +1 quality of The Soul embracing Spirit (rather than the other way around) that creates the possibility for spiritual awakening to be incorporated genuinely into daily life.

15 Sep 2015 1 comment / READ MORE

Will The Real Shakti Please Stand Up (And Dance)?

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Philosophy, Spirituality, The Imaginal, The Soul

I’ve written a great deal on this site (and elsewhere) on my disagreement with the notion of the divine masculine and feminine. I’m not going to rehash that whole argument here–if you’re interested see herehere, and here for example (I did say I wrote A LOT about it).

The basic issue I have with the masculine-feminine is that it uses terms (masculine and feminine) which are derived from human biology and gender to try to describe something that is, in theory anyway, not biologically or gender dependent.

To poke fun for a moment, this would be like if I were to attempt to describe a teaching, a polarity between burger (vegetarian) and bun (gluten-free). So burger and bun. One (burger) represents meatiness, solidity, and substance, while the other (bun) represents the energy of holding, containing, embracing. But as I say that it’s absolutely imperative you not think of an actual hamburger. Don’t think of actual food!!! It’s not food based because everyone has within them burger and bun.

Of course this analogy is purposefully a bit ludicrous. But in another way, not really. Notice that the energetic metaphors of meatiness, substance as well as containing and holding are derived from the concrete experience of eating a burger. The same goes for masculine and feminine as spiritual metaphors that are supposedly non-biological and non-gendered. When you get down to what each polarity is supposed to represent, you see they are metaphors drawn from concrete gender norming. The Masculine is said to be agentic, driven, and er penetrating. While the feminine is receptive, compassionate, and nurturing.

I’m not opposed to the idea (or even the practice) whereby there is a polarity between for example direction and reception. The problem I have is with labeling the one masculine and the other feminine, then trying to convince me that those have nothing to do with assumptions about gender (which they can’t but have since the words are themselves gender terms). Using language of Masculine and Feminine inevitably brings gender and biology debates to the fore (which is great actually) but then shuts that conversation down by saying it has nothing to do with gender and biology. Which again is like saying the polarity of burger and bun is not about food. Well yes, obviously it is, since that is what the words mean.

There’s lots of other problems that flow from that one, but for now that’s enough. As a consequence of that criticism I’ve been labeled (this is no exaggeration) all of the following: anti-woman, anti-male, secretly privileging androgyny, even anti-heterosexual. Which is equal parts hilarious and depressing given that I’m very (happily) a biological male, with a very dude gender identity whose 100% heterosexual. I’m not anti-myself. My point is simply that I don’t want metaphors drawn from my experience to be the one and only (and automatically assumed to be true and final and ultimately right) way of being for all others. Relatedly, I don’t experience energies like agency and reception have anything to do with gender, so why bring in gender terms to confuse the matter?

So given that I’ve written that much on the topic and have made clear repeatedly my disagreement with the language of Masculine and Feminine, I actually want to break custom here and actually use that very language. At least I want to explore one classic image in this tradition: The Shiva-Shakti symbol. In this symbolism, Shiva stands for Consciousness, The Masculine, Formless and Shakti is said to represent Manifestation, The Feminine, and Form. Shiva is Dark, Shakti is Light. Shiva is Unmoved, Shakti is Movement, Shiva is Heaven, Shakti is Earth, and so on.

Why do I want to write this way after all the time criticizing it? The answer is that even though I have a beef (no pun intended) with teaching Masculine and Feminine, if one is going to do it at least they should get it right on its own terms. Much as disagree with the framework, at least it should be honored and properly understood for its enduring truths.

I say that because what I’m noticing is a huge degree of misunderstanding of Shakti in particular. I would even go so far to say a deep denigration of her, under the guise of various attempts to be her devoted follower. There’s a lot of discussion, exchange, and controversy around Shakti-The Goddess nowadays. There probably always has been in some place or other but right now it’s taking a particularly, how shall I say, interesting form. It shows up in a lot of the Goddess Revival type work which I can appreciate on many levels for what it is attempting to accomplish but nevertheless I think there’s some significant flaws in what I’m seeing. I want to explore this territory because there’s deep value here but only (in my mind) if it’s held in an updated form.

In what follows then I’m going to use the traditional He-She language of Shiva-Shakti. I’ve made clear that I personally don’t buy into that framework in a metaphysical or literal sense but to honor that teaching I will use the language for this post.

But before we dive into why I think many of the invocations of Shakti are missing the mark, we need just a little bit of conceptual background. This conceptual background will help to make sense of why I think there are so many mistaken notions of Shakti floating around.

In the traditions of Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism and Vedanta Hinduism there is the teaching of the three great realms: gross, subtle, and causal. Other traditions have other names for this same basic tripartite structure. For example Christianity has purification, illumination, and union. Gross, subtle, and causal I think works well (just so long as we remember this same overall teaching exists in other traditions).

The Gross is the world of waking consciousness. Gross as in most dense (not icky). Subtle is the world of dreams, illuminations, visions, ancestors, realms of the afterlife, The World Soul, and so on. Causal is the Groundless Ground of All Being. It is the Cause or Source, The Origin of All.

The Vajrayana-Vedanta traditions also speak of a fourth realization called Nonduality. This term (or the realization that the term points to) is available in other traditions. For example, in Christianity it’s called indistinct union. But again the term nondual perhaps has a more user-friendly quality about it or at least is more commonly used, so I’ll work with it.

Labeling nonduality a fourth in a series–gross, subtle, causal, and nondual–is in one way totally correct and in another way totally inaccurate. When one first awakens to nonduality it feels as if the space of nondual awakening is separate from the three realms of gross, subtle, and causal. It feels like a fourth thing. But as one steeps like tea in this space, they come to realize that there are only the three spaces of gross, subtle, and causal. The Nondual isn’t a separate state/reality apart from the gross, subtle, and causal. Rather nonduality is the Essence, the Deep Intensity of all gross, subtle, and causal.

The traditions describe this as first awakening to a kind of Sphere that encompasses and pervades everything and everyone (Shiva). And then one realizes that within this Sphere is Radiant Light blasting in all directions infinitely (Shakti).

In this deeper (more maturer) nonduality, there is nothing other than gross, subtle, and casual. One is awake (Shiva) and dancing (Shakti) through all the three realms. And at that point one has now come to experience true Shakti. There is only the shaking of Shakti on all levels which we call creation.

Before the realization of Consciousness (symbolized by Shiva), then one lives at the mercy of Shakti. Shakti plays her game on you. And she is fickle to put it (quite) mildly. Being bound to Shakti’s shake without realization is cruel and terrifying on so many levels. Being bound to Shakti is being unconsciously bound to the inevitable turnings of the wheel of life. One day you might be up, the next day you’re being crushed under the wheel. 

As the saying goes, the only constant is change. Affixing our minds, our sense of self to any form in life is a painful choice because that form–no matter how beautiful, alluring, or pleasurable–will inevitably decay and die. And to the degree you (or I) am identified with that form in death, you die with it. Some part of you dies with it.

Everything that has a beginning in time will eventually have an end. Our physical bodies last perhaps 80 or so years. Our legacy may live on perhaps somewhat longer but will die as well. Affixing our identities to those inherently mortal forms is to invite great suffering. 

If one follows this path they are at the mercy of Shakti’s play. She will play them and inevitably it will end badly. It’s only a matter of time.

Keep that in mind because it’s trendy nowadays to invoke the Goddess and talk about embracing our bodies and whatever else, but the searing, horrendous truth, is that we are being played. All of us, all of the time. Lauding one’s practice as an embodied spirituality is usually a lot of smoke and mirrors. To be truly and utterly free (as much as is possible for any of us as humans) is a true undoing. We are undone by Freedom, by God.

And nobody wants to be undone in God. Nobody wants to be undone by Lord Shiva. Everybody wants to be the Goddess. They want to be told that they can just do whatever it is they are already doing and then say it’s enlightened. They want assurance that whatever compulsion, whatever dissociation, whatever addictive distraction they are already up to is proof of their own liberation (rather than their actual enslavement). And if someone has money they will pay lots of it to anyone who confirms their belief that they are already awakened. It also helps if she (almost always a she) shows a lot of skin because The Goddess after all is fleshy and sexuality is (automatically) sacred.

Don’t you realize how all these evil awful old patriarchal religions suppressed sex and wealth and so now so long as we simply embrace those, voila, we’re enlightened?

Didn’t you get the memo? Being rich is spiritual.

Didn’t you read the status update? Your sex is your power.

Apparently that goes doubly for you ladies–at least that’s what many of the (self-appointed?) mouthpieces of the Goddess keep seem to be shouting in my ear.

Except for this…One can never really be Shakti unless one is Shiva. Here’s the uncomfortable, obliterating truth. Here’s the turd floating in this particular spiritual punchbowl.

There’s a reason Shiva hides in graveyards. He’s dead. He’s undone.

He’s unraveled, like a sweater. He ceases to get to be somebody, anybody, anything. A zombie in a graveyard. That’s like death three times over. The brutal irony there.

Weirdly, paradoxically, perhaps even perversely, only such a multiply dead one can be a true devotee of life.

In other words, anyone who wants to be a devotee of Life, of Shakti, must be undone like Shiva.

And being undone in the beautiful Lord (Shiva) is no Sunday picnic in the park let me tell you. Nor is it necessarily some epic story of victorious triumph. It can be quite boring. It might not win you thousands of social media followers. It might, it might not. But who cares either way?

The realization of Shiva alone however is no great help either. That represents the classic path of spiritual disconnection from life. If the problem of so much Shakti-spirituality nowadays is its negatively regressive and self-centered tendencies*, then the disease of Shiva is spiritually bypassing.

Shiva-ites bypass. Shakti-ites regress.

Both are of course flawed but its only nowadays that regression is being lauded as spiritual enlightenment. Bypassing has become the new taboo of our day so regression must be our mana.

Not so fast.

Only as Shiva can you feel that there is only Shakti. Only then can you realize that there are only the gross, subtle, and causal worlds. Causal becomes Deep Presence. Subtle becomes Radiance, Luminosity. Gross becomes the Creative Pulsation of each moment.

That is the path of true bliss, the most dangerous spiritual reality there is.

A person who is undone in God and realizes there is only Shakti, that person transmits. That person transmits the siddha, the sensible touch of Divinity. At that moment we could say everything is Shiva-Shakti or that there is only Shatki, or even still, that there is no longer Shiva or Shakti at all. They themselves are gone, as separate nameable realities.

That is what it is to be a devotee. To live with and as nothing other than Gross-Subtle-Causal. Nothing other than Shakti’s shake. Not bound to it. Radically Free AS it.

Only from such a place can one truly learn their part in the overall dance. No longer about finding your purpose or actualizing your potentials or living your fullest life or whatever. But simply recognizing the true compulsion of your soul. You are one dart in the Divine Quiver. You need to find your mark. That is the wisdom of your soul.

Your soul needs to flow out of this spiritual ground I’ve been exploring here. When there is only Shakti, when there is only gross-subtle-causal, then you find you are a distinct flavor, a distinct articulation of that whole. It is not that the part is in the whole. It is that the whole is in the part, entirely, as a singular part.

It’s not that you, as a drop, fall into to the ocean and are dispersed into the whole. It is that the ocean flows through your drop. Only to the degree that your drop, your essence is undone, is transparent, is utterly unwound, only to that degree can the ocean flow through.

This Ocean is no blue one however. This Ocean is Liquid Love. This Ocean is Iridescent Impulse.

Remember that saffron is both the most brilliant color of shine (Shakti) as well as the color of renunciation (Shiva). The two go hand in hand. Most only want to sell you or one or the ‘tother. Such persons, however well-meaning and sincere (or neither) are not ultimately trustworthy. Eventually they will be forced to let you down or worse directly betray you. Or you them. Or all of the above.

Here’s the crux of the problem.

Lauding Shakti without being undone inevitably creates new brutal dualities. Dualities that will indicate certain forms of life are “Radiant” and others that, by definition, are not. A most obvious version of illusion-based Shakti-derived duality are the constant declarations of “OMG, You’re a Radiant Goddess” to women spiritual practitioners who happen to adhere to conventional standards of physical hotness. This tendency is only magnified by the women who use their hotness to get declared a goddess. Others get called it without actually wanting it. But either way they are separated out from the whole and made into the only proper incarnation of the Goddess.

Which is a serious problem because then women who don’t meet those cultural beauty standards don’t get called Radiant Goddesses very much, if at all. When in spiritual fact they may well be far more truly radiant than some hot chic with a yoga butt.

A distinct but related problem with this ill-conceived Shakti spirituality is that it teaches (straight) men to not identify with Shakti and forever be searching for The Feminine, the alluring Other, principally in a woman, who exists no longer as her own being but as an Embodiment of a Principle. And once you put her on the pedestal and angelize her, it’s very easy to knock her off that pedestal and demonize her.

That’s terrible no doubt. But it gets worse. Or at least it gets subtler.

To realize, to confess that there is nothing other than Shakti means we see and experience Shakti in the midst of everything. And I mean everything. And that is a truly terrifying proposition. The false-Shakti religion around today will always be choosing only certain kinds of experiences as Radiant. Experiences that are empowering, full of light, desire, health, and beauty. But what about pain, loss, grief? Is Shakti absent from those? If so, she’s not worth worshipping. If she is indeed present in and through and as all those (as I believe She is) then how can we justify continuing to only glorify one set of her expressions? That’s idolatrous.

To truly follow Shakti is to worship her wherever you see her. But if you only see her in places that feel good for you, it’s not that she is absent from the others, it’s that you don’t want to look there. You don’t care then (ultimately) about Shakti for her own sake. You care more about how Shakti can you make you feel better. You don’t serve Shakti then, she serves you.

Ask not what Shakti can do you for you. Ask what you can do for Shakti.

To worship and transmit Shakti is to experience radiant glory in all circumstances. This is not to say that everything goes and that ethics are thrown out the window. It’s more about the redeemed, glorified essence of each moment. Shakti’s presence (which again is Shiva) may not be recognized and honored in many places–and the consequences of that denial are suffering–but She is always present. She is always shinning. But she might shine through one moment of a luminous darkness, another of ethereal light, or yet another of boring, neutral grey. All of them are her.

That’s why if you follow Shakti she turns you into Shiva.** Shakti wants you to stop choosing which forms of her manifestation you like and which ones you dislike. She wants you to be full of joy and radiant in all of them. That’s her purification. For how could one be so Joyous except at the cost of burning up? What would be left spiritually except a kind of Empty Death–Like character in the Graveyard (Shiva)?

Only a Soul can truly be born from such ashes.

You have to be Shiva to be Shakti but you have to be Shakti to be Shiva.

The Shakti-ite school in our day offers only side of Shakti (the light side) and never therefore brings one back to Shiva. At that point it is entirely a not so subtle campaign of politicking and jockeying for spiritual position. Once the game is set up in this horrible way, then the fight is on to look the most like Light Shakti. Because remember without Shiva all forms are inevitably heading to their death. A Shakti-Goddess religion, sans Shiva, is a created form that is very much time bound and therefore very much conditioned and very much mortal. Its adherents will therefore be compelled to keep up the charade, to keep feeding the beast and working to keep away the death (Shiva) just outside the door.

(And for the record invoking Kali or Dark Goddess imagery nowadays seems on the surface to be something different but really is just part of the same game. Because Kali is always seeming to be on the side of more ferocity, more rawness, more epic-ness. She’s just as culturally packaged now as Shakti.)

The cultural packaging—almost entirely for woman of course–is that being Shakti’s devotee will make you feel good. Many women feel badly about themselves because in large measure that is how they’re controlled. This reality is a deeply unmerciful and unjust one. But rather than confess that truth, rather than seek to heal it, rather than begin ask what is wrong that so many feel this way, too much effort is spent trying to alleviate the symptoms.

Shakti will not make you feel good. Shakti will make you FEEL period.

Feeling good is not the same as Joy. Sometimes Joy is ecstatically happy and pleasurable yes. Other times it’s worse than the worst pain imaginable. Still other times it’s as mind numbingly pedantic as it can get.

And I don’t mean epic pain, pain that is part of some great hero(ine)’s journey of profound meaning and purpose and fulfillment. If that happens great. But I’m talking pain and loss even where there is no great meaning. No epic narrative. No marketable story to tell. Times where things just fall apart, never to come back, and perhaps never to make sense. The small daily deaths. Tell me those are as much Shakti as the enormous epic times. Then I will believe.

Until then we need to inquire in each and every moment, “Where is Shakti in this experience and how can I worship her?”

* There is a place for regression in service of transcendence as well as healthy self-orientation. But these are typically not what is going on under the label of Shakti work.

** That’s what the imagery of Kali is all about. How the Radiant Light Shakti also eats up separation. She can therefore be depicted in both Her Glorious Compassionate expression but also her Terrible Numinous expression.

23 Aug 2015 3 comments / READ MORE

The Case For Social Exorcism: On Charleston

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

–The Letter to the Ephesians Chapter 6, verse 12

A month ago in response to the protests in Baltimore, I wrote a piece called Political Shamanism and the Subtle Energetics of Racism.

In that piece I argued that racism is not only a phenomenon of the manifest concrete world (though it is most definitely that as well), but is also a reality of the subtle world: i.e. the world of our energy, our dreams, even our souls. Racism is, in part, a soul illness. It is a debilitating virus of the soul that eats away its host from the inside. It also harms the souls (and often the bodies) of those whom it chooses to hate. I cited the ancient wisdom teaching that souls are not only individual but also collective–there are souls (animas) of places, of institutions, of peoples. They too, just like individual souls, can become sick.

In that piece I was focused on the collective soul of white America and its soul illness of racism. This week there was the racially motivated terrorist attack against the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina. Following this story, and much of the analysis and coverage of it, further convinces me of the importance of that initial argument.

I want to take it a step further here. It’s going to take it to a more troubling place. But I believe through that land lies a path to a more promise-filled way of life. (For the record I almost wrote “dark” place there instead of troubling until I caught myself as to how atrocious it would be to use that word in this context, so the infiltration runs deeply).

I don’t want this view to be seen as supplanting all of the other important perspectives on this topic. Just that I think the perspective I’m offering here is one I typically see missing.

So before we get there we need one more important piece of theological wisdom: souls worship god(s).

The soul is the energetic matrix, the deepest essence of a being. When souls become drawn to their source, they enter into devotion. Souls devote themselves, which means they worship God or rather gods. This point is an important one with significant ramifications, though we don’t typically talk in this manner so the implications aren’t very obvious to us in our secular world (yet the effects are very much real nonetheless).

It’s of course impossible to talk about gods in the United States with talking about The Bible. It is often incorrectly stated that the Bible teaches monotheism–i.e. the belief that there is but one God. The Bible however is very polytheistic insofar as it teaches there are many, many, many, many, many gods. Even the name of God in the Bible is a plural world (Elohim). The Bible’s argument instead is that one god of all those gods is worth worshipping, namely the God of Israel.*

The Bible then would more accurately be termed a text of monolatry rather than monotheism. The Greek word latreia means worship, adoration, and obedience–that’s where the “latry” comes from. So monolatry means worship (latreia) of one god as opposed to worship of one or many of the other gods around, whereas idolatry is worship of an idol, i.e. a false god.

The crucial piece to remember is that The Bible does not say false gods are unreal (in some ontological sense). The critique is far more subtle than that. It’s that the wrong god (who is nevertheless real) is being worshipped. gods that don’t actually exist don’t cause problems. gods that do exist but are harmful, when worshipped, now these gods are indeed profoundly destructive.

Here’s my supposition then:

The soul of white America worships one (or more) of such very real but very harmful false gods.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

In the Hebraic-Jewish understanding worship of a god meant total service to that god. There was a specifically cultic dimension of worship to be sure, what we would think of today as religion proper–different gods had different temples, different locales, different customs, and different priesthoods. But worship in the Jewish understanding is an integral process. Religion in this view is an entire way of life, not something one does for an hour on the weekend. Obedience or worship would specifically cover one’s cultic duties but also one’s ethics, relationships, sense of personhood and group identification (“we are the people who worship this god”), and so on. These would all be, in totality, one’s religion.

Given that totality, here’s the catch:

Different gods bring with them different energies and different worldviews.

The argument of the Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus, is that if you worship the wrong god you will have the wrong social order. And conversely if there is an unjust and unmerciful social order it must be because there is bad theology.

The equation would go:

wrong god = unjust social order

Pharaoh worshipped the wrong god and therefore enslaved the Hebrews. The right god (or at least a better god) freed the slaves.

Again it’s not that the gods worshipped are unreal. It’s not Scooby Doo. We meddling kids don’t pull off the masks of these supposed gods and jenkies we really find out all along it’s been the old caretaker of the children’s park.

These gods, these subtle energies-archetypes, these deities are real. And some of them are opposed to life. Some of them are evil. (Many are benevolent, but that’s not our focus for the moment.)

Secularism, as a philosophy that dominates our world, denies the truth of the subtle realm. It doesn’t stop the subtle realm however from being real or having effects. Secularism simply makes the subtle unconscious (which is very dangerous). The truth is obedience and worship is occurring whether or not one identifies as secular, religious, atheistic, agnostic, whatever. The labels actually are quite secondary. The primary thing is who or what is being worshipped and being given one’s obedience.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

I’ve always found that last sentence so strange–spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Shouldn’t heaven be free of evil? Well no. Not if we understand heavenly places to mean the subtle realms (as I do). Then there are forces of evil in the subtle (i.e. heavenly) realms, one of those forces being racism.

Now we are in a position to tie these various strands together. I argued (in my earlier piece) that white America has a kind of soul, a soul that is infected with the subtle illness of racism. In this piece I’ve argued further that souls worship gods and that worship means total obedience unto the god and that god’s energy.

Moreover, some gods are anti-life. Some gods are spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. To worship those gods is to serve those powers. Worship here meaning full spectrum worship. To give our money, our energy, our time, our allegiance, our bodies, our hearts, even our very souls to a false, anti-life god.

Further, the social order reflects the god (or gods) worshipped. The social order, according to the Bible, is the reflection of the gods worshipped. The social order then is the test of the dominant worship. In other words:

The institutions and structures of a society reflect the god or gods being worshipped.

Therefore, if as I’m suggesting, the soul of white America is worshipping a false god (or gods) then its institutions are corrupted at their very energetic level. The rise of prisons in the US would be the most obviously example–soul crushing places which are temples or churches built to a god who lives off the torture of others. But it goes well beyond prisons alone. They are only the most obvious example of what liberation theologians called social sin.

All of which means the soul of white America (broadly speaking) not only suffers the illness of racism, it’s also worshipping a false god. It’s worshipping an anti-life subtle energy/archetype or deity (or possibly deities). It worships an idol. The soul of white America (or more precisely, significant portions of it) has given its worship, its obedience, its devotion to a god of death and domination. The soul of white America has wedded itself in a perverted form of love to a loveless spiritual force of evil in the subtle heavenly places.

The Bible is very clear about what to do with demons, false gods, and idols: exorcise them.

Hence it’s time for a social exorcism.

The social conservative narrative forming that attempts to co-opt this massacre as an attack on religious liberty points precisely in this direction though not in the way those advocating that position imagine. Their attempt to hijack the narrative of the event is an evasive maneuver, attempting to hide the ugly truth lying at the heart of this all. There is a spiritual esoteric aspect to this story, but it’s not about white evangelical American Christians not being able to pray in public schools and therefore being similarly oppressed such that they are able to identify with those of murdered African Americans in the black church tradition.

There are different gods at war and different social orders representing those opposing gods. This obvious distinction gets confused in media because both groups theoretically worship the same Christian god, but in practice they do not.

The social order of white America is one with a terrible history: genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery and segregation, class-based violence, sexual degradation, global rapaciousness, and destruction of the biosphere.

Of course there were and are plenty of well-natured and well-meaning white Americans, as well as white Americans who actively opposed such realities. That’s not the point. We’re talking the collective soul. We’re talking its devotion, its obedience to a spiritual force of evil in the heavenly places.

Because, as the Biblical argument goes, we need to look at the social order. The social order is the expression of the god worshipped. The social order (and not anything else) is what tells us who really is the god or gods of our time. What the Letter to the Ephesians calls “the cosmic powers of the present darkness.”

Those words still apply today. After the massacre at Sandyhook Elementary, Catholic writer Gary Wills wrote an article calling gun culture in American “Our Moloch”.

Moloch was a god to whom devotees offered human child sacrifices, their own children in fact. Wills’ point, one of complete truth, is that America worships the gun god Moloch and therefore must sacrifice its children to him, since he is after all, a subtle energy-demonic god-evil spiritual force who requires the blood of children to survive. That was or more accurately is (since Moloch is clearly real) the cultic obligation due Moloch.

As long as Moloch is worshipped he will have his blood. He will demand payment in the form of innocent lives and he will get it. Until white America stops worshipping Moloch, legitimate gun regulations (much less the disarmament of the country) will never happen.

The Bible understands something very crucial when it comes to gods–namely they need us as much as we need them. The relationship is a two way street. We become devoted to a god but that god also becomes devoted to us. Our worship of the gods changes us, but our worship of the gods changes the gods themselves.**

Said more simply:

You become what you meditate on.

And if we meditate on death, that is what we become. Robert Oppenheimer knew this terrible truth; which is why when he saw the atomic bomb explode, a bomb he helped to create, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita:

“I have become death, destroyer of worlds.”

You become what you meditate on. We all do.

Which is why the only question really worth asking someone is: who do you worship? For that is what you will become.

The soul of white America worships Moloch; hence it has become his servant, his devotee, even his incarnation. Moloch is a parasitic god requiring the blood of children to survive. Moloch is an anti-life force, a kind of zombie, a dead reality still somehow in a quasi-state of non-dead yet non-living life requiring the consumption of truly living beings in order to continue to exist in this non-dead yet non-living state.

However, it gets worse, I believe Moloch is only one of the false idols worshipped by the soul of white America.

Another such god (or perhaps another facet of Moloch?) is the god of the white American South, the god of the Confederacy, that is the god of white domination. This is the god Dylann Ruff worshipped. In fact, he wore badges to show his loyalty (his latreia) to white colonialist Rhodesia.

The reason why no major US conservative political figure wants to acknowledge the racism underlying the terrorist attack in Charleston is because to do so would leave the entire edifice of their theological and social reality crumbling. To acknowledge the obvious reality that the attack was motivated by race would be to implicate their souls. It goes way deeper than revealing the flaws in their political ideology. It would be to confess a very stain at the core of their psyches.

After the end of the US Civil War, the Union Army occupied the lands of the former rebel confederate territory. There began perhaps the most radical social and political experiment in US history: Reconstruction. It was an attempt to dismantle the entire edifice of white supremacy upon which the South was built. It was an attempt to not simply end slavery but deconstruct the entire ideology on which it was built.

For many complex reasons that plan was abandoned and a bargain was struck with the devil–and given we’re talking subtle energetics, I mean quite possibly and quite literally the devil. That deal was to leave the South free of the occupation. From there the KKK filled the security void and reinstalled white power. The tragic irony being that the (Northern) US Army had to occupy the South once more a hundred years later in order to end segregation.

From the late 19th century on, an entire industry arose to attempt to “heal the wound of America” but that healing was only to take place between the white southerner and his white northerner “brother.” Formers slaves and their descendants were definitely not welcomed into that healing circle. Movies, novels, historical narratives, Civil War re-enactments all treat the antebellum South and the Confederacy as a beautiful but tragically doomed land. The ubiquitous Confederate flag throughout the South (and rural parts of the North, Midwest and Western US) is the most visible sign.
The nostalgia of Dixie and the land of cotton stirs much of the white soul (even those not from the South). The most virulent edges of it were dulled in the 1960s but many parts of it were left to remain. It was those that allowed Nixon, Reagan, and the entire conservative counterrevolution of the last 40+ years to flourish.

When Reconstruction was ended, The Confederacy, large parts of it anyway, was fused back into the soul of white America. It was a soul retrieval of the worst possible kind rather than the exorcism that was (and still is) so sorely needed. The Confederacy is a poltergeist, an entity attachment on the soul of white America one that needs to be exorcised.

How many US military bases are named after Confederate Generals? Generals who took up arms against the government, the same government who now has bases named for those rebellious leaders? A deal with the devil to bring back the South. And it worked in its perverse way: e.g. the dominance of the South in the current US military is well documented. Remember how I said the institutions themselves become means of the dissemination of the false god’s energy into the manifest world? It’s right there in the names.

Which is to say all of it is built upon worship of a false god. Whether it was the white American soul that first revived some dead or dying god and corrupted it to serve its purposes or whether that god was corrupt to begin with is hard to say. At this point, the relationship is a co-dependent one.

That evil force in the heavenly spheres, that white god of domination, had a devotee in Dylann Ruff. He shouted core theological beliefs of that god just prior to his act of terror: “you’re stealing our [white] women and taking over OUR country.”

And it is that god and all his minions that must be exorcised; all his demons, demigods, all his lieutenants, powers and principalities. The white soul of America has to confess its worship of this false god, repent, and detach itself. It needs to cut the cord to that parasitic god until that god disintegrates. The parasite cannot live without its host. If we stop feeding it, if we stop meditating on these gods of death, they will die out. But that will not be pretty. False gods are addicts; their parasitic tentacles reach deeply into the core of the white American soul. They will not go gently into that good night.

Since the soul we are speaking of here is collective and has impact on individual souls, it will require individuals of a high caliber to do the subtle energy exorcism work collectively. Prior to an exorcism, shamans, exorcists, and priests have to prepare themselves for what is to come. In all honesty, I think just about the only real remaining value to individual spiritual practice nowadays is to act as a kind of preparation for the collective exorcism rites we will need to perform together.

While my background is Christian and therefore I speak from the Biblical view of liberation and the Biblical cosmology, the closest parallel to what I’m arguing here that I’m aware of from the Buddhist tradition comes from my friend Darrin Drda whose re-imagined Buddhist cosmology and teaching in relation to the US as an imperial reality.

The key point, regardless of which language or system we want to reference, is that the evil subtle energetics be taken as real. Not so real as to be overwhelming or to create paranoia. Here The Biblical account offers hope that these false gods are not and need not be victorious. They can be exorcised. They can be energetically metabolized.

C.S. Lewis wisely said there were two mistakes when it came to evil: to underestimate it and to overestimate it.

To invoke the process of social exorcism is to take this issue very seriously and yet to create a stronger feeling of empowerment. Neither under nor overestimating its power.

Liberal religious types and secular individuals have ceded this territory because of the discomfort of talking about things like exorcisms. People might think you crazy for even contemplating such a thing. It leaves the truth of social exorcism to be perverted and corrupted to the ends of those who claim to use it to rid the world of their hated “other”, e.g. gays and lesbians. It’s also left the field wide open for the devotion to the false god(s), whether that devotion is conscious or not (the vast majority of which is definitely not).

I believe it’s time to change that.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

* Christians, as distinct from Jews, argue that the God of Israel was incarnate in the human being Jesus of Nazareth. While Muslims believe that same god, the god Al-Lah, perfected those earlier revelations with the final revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. Specific and important differences aside, all in all same god.

** Though this is not my focus here, for the theology-spirituality nerds out there, I’m making an argument for a post-metaphysical argument form of social exorcism.

21 Jun 2015 1 comment / READ MORE

Bliss: The Most Dangerous Spiritual State of All?

Posted by Chris Dierkes in Emotions, Mystics, Philosophy, Spirituality, The Soul

Awhile back I wrote a piece for the website Reality Sandwich entitled “Why Following Your Bliss is Bulls#@%.” I took a mostly (but not entirely) critical view of the now cliched saying to follow your bliss, originally from the great Joseph Campbell.

I’m not going to rehash that entire argument but there’s one section from that piece I want to expand on here. Namely what precisely is the spiritual state of bliss.

In the earlier piece I explored the confusion of Campbell’s understanding of bliss from the two most common meanings of the word, one emotional and one spiritual. Bliss being the English translation of the Sanskrit word ananda, as in Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being- Consciousness-Bliss). Both the emotional and the spiritual meaning of bliss are not what Campbell had in mind when he spoke of following your bliss. This difference in meaning has created a serious amount of confusion and misunderstanding.

When it comes to the emotional meaning of bliss, I wrote:

“Sometimes people will translate ananda into English as happiness, joy, or even elation. Joy, happiness, and elation are temporary emotional states (good ones no doubt!) but ananda they ain’t.* Ananda doesn’t come and go like happiness or joy. Happiness or joy exist in relation to other emotions like sadness, grief, fear, and anger. Ananda doesn’t have any such relations. There’s nothing to compare ananda to. Ananda is not like happiness which we know as different from sadness (and vice versa). Moreover, it’s possible to experience ananda while also experiencing an emotional state of joy or sadness, boredom or elation, fear or contentment.”

The problem then with advising people to follow their bliss is that if they understand bliss to be an emotional state, then they will be seeking an “emotional high.” They will become addicts in other words. This thinking massively pervades the personal growth and spirituality of much of North America (aka “bliss junkies”).

So having made clear that the emotional state of bliss is not something to be attached to, in this piece I want to explore the spiritual state of Bliss. I’ll explore why I think the spiritual state of bliss to be a very grace-filled experience but also a signicantly dangerous one. In fact it’s likely the most dangerous spiritual state known to humanity. I’m not being overly dramatic. In a very sober way, I mean it when I say bliss is very dangerous.

For reference: I’ll use Bliss capitalized to distinguish the spiritual state of Bliss from the more temporary emotional state of bliss (indicated by lowercase ‘b’ bliss).

Here’s what I wrote in my earlier piece about the spiritual meaning of Ananda (Bliss):

Ananda is the energetic state of awakening. It’s the energetic space that comes from the realization of pure release in the state of utter liberation.

Now these are just words. Without the experience of actual Bliss the words are by themselves meaningless. Even with the experience of Bliss those words are far from perfect but at least work I believe as a beginning entry point to make sense of Bliss.

I’m going to unpack this statement and show why Bliss is so powerful but also at its heart very ambiguous. I’ll conclude with some thoughts on how to set a proper context for the integration of Bliss as an element of an overall human spiritual life. An element, not the element. I want to stress that last point–Bliss should be a part of an overall spiritual life it should not become the final and most important part of a spiritual life.

Saying “Follow Your Bliss” and understanding Bliss as a spiritual state creates its own set of problems–namely the bias towards Bliss as the final, most important form of spiritual awakening. Bliss is very important. Bliss IS NOT however the final and most important spiritual realization.

I’m interested then in exploring Bliss and figuring out a balanced view of its truths and limitations and how best to approach it in order that we can receive the truths and graces of Bliss and not become enmeshed in its limitations and potential shadow sides.

The English language on this point is really unhelpful. I want to describe spiritual experiences and interpretations that are my own but by having to speak of ‘my experience’ it carries a strong sense of personal ownership that isn’t correct in this context. For in Bliss, the normal sense of “I” or “me” isn’t present such that “I” could claim to have interpretations or understandings of that experience. “I” wasn’t even there (I in the normal self-sense that is).

That being said, I don’t also want to give the impression that my experience and interpretation is the final and complete one for all time and places. So I do need to claim some personal responsibility for the interpretations without it becoming an avaricious ownership kind of thing, like Gollum with the Ring of Power. This isn’t my precious.

Still with all that being said, I also am NOT advocating a view of “everybody’s got their own experience, so to each their own.” I do think what I’m proposing, while not the final ultimate interpretation of Bliss, is nevertheless A right and valid interpretation of Bliss. My interpretation is not THE final right and valid interpretation of Bliss, but there are many other interpretations of Bliss that I find wrong or misguided. So I am drawing some clear lines here.

As we proceed, I hope it’s clear I’m trying to tightrope walk with this one.

The only other prefatory comment to add is that my experience of Bliss is, to use some technical language, endogenic. That means it’s an experience internally generated, i.e. through spiritual practice like meditation. In contrast, there are people who experience Bliss through exogenic means, for example by ingesting mushrooms or taking an acid trip. I don’t have any experience in that realm so I can’t speak to it.

With all those provisos, back then to my working definition of Bliss:

Ananda [Bliss] is the energetic state of awakening. It’s the energetic space that comes from the realization of pure release in the state of utter liberation.

Breaking down that definition there’s three component parts:

Energetic space/state
Pure Release
Utter Liberation

In the actual experience of Bliss those three can’t be separated from each other, but for the purposes of teasing out the experience, we can differentiate them, at least conceptually.

Bliss is a spiritual state of Burning Fire. In Bliss it is as if the world melts into Liquid Brilliance. It is as if there is an electrical charge. There’s a dynamism, a vitality, an energetic “pow”.

Pure Release
Bliss is Aloneness. Bliss is solitude in a desert oasis at night illumined by fire.

Utter Liberation
In Bliss one is freed even from having to be free. One is freed from all constructs, including “good” ones like Truth, Freedom, Enlightenment, Goodness. It’s a Liberation from Liberation. In Bliss, stupidity as well as intelligence are Liberated. Confusion and Clarity are seen as two sides of one coin. Heaven and Hell, Nirvana and Samsara, are just forms of Bliss.

Bliss is an Undertow. It’s a Current. It pulls one out to sea. It’s an alluring pull. It’s as if Bliss opens up the pores on my skin. In the space of Bliss, everything else starts to melt away. I find myself simply taken away in the current. This current however has no destination. It’s just the experience of being pulled out to sea, Infinitely, Indefinitely, Eternally. No destination, no goal, no purpose, other than the ride itself.

In the space of Bliss, everything that arises is just gently poured in to the sea. It could be the most creative thought in the world, a most painful memory, a very pleasurable sensation, even seemingly fundamental aspects of my identity, it doesn’t matter. They all arise and simply get buried in the Sea of Bliss. Everything is left in the Desert Oasis of Bliss.

Put all three of these aspects together and you have the spiritual state of Bliss. Because Bliss so charged and because it takes out beyond all categories, all conceptions, all ways of splitting the world into right and wrong, it is very powerful. It is also however, for all the exact same reasons, potentially dangerous.

The Dark Sides of Bliss

Now there are significant dangers associated with each of those three elements. I hear spiritual teachers (or students) often extol the virtues of Bliss, but I hear less often an honest assessment of the dangers involved. I think it’s best to squarely face the dangers and bring them right out into the open.

Danger #1: Addictions, Trauma, and Psychological Shadow

The most obvious danger is the danger for all spiritual states–namely spiritual bypassing. Bliss can and is used as an escape for those suffering from addictions, traumas, mental illness, emotional disease, and/or soul ailments. As a spiritual state, Bliss is free from pain, terror, turmoil, confusion, or trauma. That is a gift of the state but also potentially a curse. Traumas, addictions, and nervous system disturbance are endemic within our culture. PTSD is not only for people who’ve been to war and addiction is not only for people going to 12 Step meetings for alcohol or drug abuse.

In that context, spirituality can then become a siren song, calling us wounded beings to an easy escape from dealing with our challenges on the level which they exist. For example, if you have an emotional problem, then you need to deal with it on the emotional level of your being. Having a spiritual realization will temporarily move you into a different space where the emotional problem doesn’t arise in the first place. That’s a great solution if you could hold that spiritual state for every moment for the rest of your life (which frankly is more or less the advice of classical spiritual teachers btw).

Assuming however you can’t hold that state in the entirely of your being for every waking moment of the rest of your existence (a good assumption btw!), then when the spiritual state recedes, the emotional problem will return. This return of the emotional problem can leave a sense of despair in the practitioner. They’ve struggled with something, then it goes away, now it’s back, so not surprisingly their initial response is to try to return immediately to the place where it doesn’t hurt. Worse still, the emotional problem (or addiction or trauma) can come back charged with spiritual energy. With Bliss this is doubly the case given how strongly energetic (in some cases even erotic) the experience is. A person with a trauma pattern can easily spin out from an injection of Bliss–i.e. they can experience a dissociative state. This isn’t per se a fault of Bliss but we live a pervasively traumatized society. The more we study about trauma the more we realize it’s not something relegated only to people in terribly violent accidents and the like. It’s a much more common experience. Consequently anyone teaching Bliss needs to be very aware of the risks involved and screen accordingly.

Danger #2 Beyond Good and Evil

This one is straightforward. Bliss is definitely beyond our human conceptions of good and evil. It is deeply freeing to be released from our subtle bindings of wanting to be good people. But when Bliss is idealized as the final summit of spiritual perfection (as it often is) then we have a serious issue on our hands. Bliss does not give any indication about ethical behavior one way or another. Bliss is not interested in such matters. Not at all. In the most extreme cases, this can led a human being to claim that they are beyond good and evil. Charlie Manson made just such a claim btw. A person who has experienced Bliss can (mis)interpret the experience to mean that they exist in what is known as a “state of exemption”–i.e. they don’t believe the rules of being a good human being apply to them. Abuse by spiritual teachers, cultism and the like all flow from this basic error.

Danger #3 No Purpose

This element is also quite clear. Not only does the spiritual state of Bliss have no orientation to right or wrong, it has no orientation to purpose. It has no point. It has no direction or aim. This can be radically destabilizing and disorienting for the realizer. Again, if Bliss is articulated as the final, ultimate point of spiritual realization (of a human life even), which in some cases it is, then the final point is pointless. With Bliss there’s the strong possibility of wanting to flee or abandon the world to its own demise and suffering, while one simply “Blisses Out.” Here again is the problem of uncritically advocating “Following Your Bliss.”

The spiritual state of Bliss is not “your” Bliss or “my” Bliss or “anyone’s” Bliss. Bliss SIMPLY IS. It cannot be owned. Further, it goes nowhere, hence it cannot be “followed”. Only something with direction, aim, or purpose can be followed. Bliss has no aim, purpose, or direction. The only way one could “follow” the spiritual state of Bliss is by becoming overly fixated or even addicted to the state. And this, like all addictions, is an unhealthy response to unhealed trauma.

The Solution

Given the severity of these dangers associated with Bliss maybe Bliss should be abandoned altogether? While I can sympathize with that idea, I don’t believe it’s the right choice. There is a reason the Indian tradition valued Bliss so highly by naming it as one of its triad of spiritual realization. Bliss has something to teach us about being human that nothing else can. Bliss has an utterly unique wisdom associated with it. If we deny Bliss altogether we lose access to that very important truth of our humanity. Bliss is part of us whether we acknowledge it or not. The only choice is whether we make Bliss a conscious, integrated aspect of our human existence or not. If we choose not, then we will suffer the consequences of not owning this aspect of ourselves. In that case, Bliss won’t go away it will simply express itself in unconscious, negative forms. Unconscious Bliss leads us forever seeking for some release elsewhere and forever suffering right where we are.

Therefore, the question we needing be asking is: how can we incorporate the beauty of Bliss without its dark sides taking over? 

The way to responsibly work with Bliss involves two main pieces.

1. Proper Preparation
Teachers should be open and honest with students about the dangers of bliss. Students should not be introduced to Bliss until they have some capacity to properly regulate their nervous system, understand their emotions and relate to them in a healthy fashion, as well as having learned how to work with their shadow. They will also have to be introduced to other (somewhat safer) spiritual states first, like Peacefulness, Presence, Awakened Heart and so on. Only then are they ready to be introduced to Bliss.

Placing Bliss Within The Soul

Of all the controversial statements I’ve made so far in this post, perhaps this is most controversial. This site is dedicated to The Soul. It’s my contention that it is our nature as Soul that is the proper container of a human incarnation. It is The Soul, in other words, that is the proper context for integration of our spiritual nature. (For a little more on soul versus spirit see here and here.)

In very very broad strokes, spiritual enlightenment teachings of all varieties almost always advocate that our spiritual nature is the proper context for us to live as awakened beings. Basically we should be and live from our spiritual nature all the time and that’s the “meta-solution” to all of our suffering.

I get the argument but just look at the term: spirit-ual teachings. The bias is right there in the name. So it’s not surprising spiritual teachings advocate being our spiritual nature. I define our spiritual nature as that which is universal and the same for all of us. Bliss is one expression, one state of our spiritual nature.

Spiritual teachings often divide the human up into simply two parts: the ego (bad) and the spirit (good). The path then is very simply to deny, crucify, transcend, or in some way annihilate the ego in order to be spiritually awake. When spiritual teaching is set up as one part bad (e.g. the ego) and one part good (spirit), then inevitably the whole of the teaching is about how to get out of the bad and into the good and once having gotten into the good how to stay in the good permanently.

I used to practice this way for years. I don’t agree any longer with that viewpoint. In that regard, I’m standing athwart much of spirituality yelling ‘Stop!’ (as William Buckley once famously said in an extremely different context).

I argue instead we should see our Soul–i.e. our singular, distinct manifestation and expression of The Universal–as the proper vessel or vehicle for living a fully human and fully divine life. What this means practically is that the spiritual aspects of us need to be incorporated into our Soul. Whereas in the history of spirituality most spirituality draws the biggest circle being Spirit and believing the Soul should fit inside Spirit. I’m advocating a reversal of the ordering (Spirit fits inside Soul).

Where spirituality would advocate No Boundaries, Soul-teaching advocates Sovereignty–the space where each Soul in an empowered way draws a sacred boundary around itself and incorporates and integrates all aspects of itself in a fully enfleshed manner. All aspects. Spiritual, psychological, emotional, etc.

So in other words, let’s imagine you experience the spiritual state of Bliss through meditation. Then you (I argue) should identify with your Soul. The Soul sets a proper container and context for Bliss to enter in and be welcomed. Bliss is not the final voice but simply now a Voice. Bliss is now “freed up by being limited” (in the words of Ken Wilber). Bliss is freed up to offer its wisdom without bringing in its wake all the baggage and dangers associated with it. These dangers largely occur when we look to Bliss to solve the problem of being human (which it doesn’t). When Bliss is not set up to solve a problem or be our salvation then it works quite well. It’s a profoundly amazing state and aspect of our being. But Bliss needs to held by the Soul–the aspect of us that does have a sense of purpose, of proper discernment (right/wrong), and doesn’t seek to route around or bypass any difficulties on any levels of our being.

What Joseph Campbell actually meant by Bliss was the Soul. So it turns out in the end he was right–we should Follow Our Bliss, i..e we should Follow the inherent impulses and charges of The Soul. But that is not what people hear when they hear the word Bliss. I think Campbell should have chosen a different word to describe the inherent drives and pull of The Soul than Bliss. What Campbell meant by bliss is neither a temporary emotional state of the personality nor is it the Bliss of our spiritual nature. I think we should leave Bliss to be what it is (a spiritual state of energetic awakening beyond all categories) and find a different word to describe the pull of our Soul.

Both are very important but they are very different and using the same term to describe both causes category errors and unnecessary pain and suffering for spiritual practitioners.

Coda: Special Note on Aurobindo

The great Indian realizer Sri Aurobindo gave an alternative interpretation to Ananda. He saw Ananda as the purposeful movement into incarnate reality of the spiritual. Aurobindo, as a consequence, was very critical of the classic Vedanta tradition of awakening represented by figures like Shankara or Ramana Maharshi. My experience of Bliss is much more in the Vedanta lineage. I do however believe Aurobindo was correct that there is a Creative or Incarnating Impulse. What some call an Evolutionary or Creative or God Impulse. For me this Evolutionary or Creative Impulse is actually a new revelation or insight. Where for Aurobindo the Incarnating Nature of Bliss was the original insight of the Indian lineage (he cited the ancient Indian texts the Vedas to support his claim).

I understand Aurobindo’s desire to ground his experience and teaching in his own lineage and his interpretation of the Vedas and the Upanishads is quite revolutionary in that regard. But I think he was actually talking about a new insight. There are some points of contact between his view and the ancient one–the connection is through the energetic pulsation of Bliss. But in the Aurobindian line that pulsation has desire to express and is existing within a frame of spiritual evolution, i.e. the Descent of Supermind, Supermind being the first expression of Sat-Chit-Ananda. In other words, I think Aurobindo (along with others) really discovered/co-constructed a 4th term to Being-Consciousness-Bliss. It would be for Aurobdino (as I see it) something more like:


In my understanding then there is room for both the Vedanta and the Aurobindian schools of realization and interpretation. The Vedanta tradition connecting more with the first three and the Aurobindian tradition the fourth.

* There is a way to speak of Joy in a spiritual sense as a deep underlying ease and sense of blessedness of simply being alive. Joy, in this understanding, is the Feeling of Being Herself. This view is totally valid but I still argue it is different from the state of Ananda, which is I think actually correctly translated into English as Bliss. The differentiation from Joy and Bliss is already there in the difference between Sat (Being) and Ananda (Bliss). Trying to translate Ananda into Joy conflates Sat and Ananda, which are intimately tied into one another but nevertheless are distinct.

17 May 2015 2 comments / READ MORE